Keeping the product packaging innovative, eye-catching and convenient for consumers is key to ensure the product remains in its manufactured state and that ensures customer satisfaction, brand loyalty and increased sales. However, cutting down costs and reducing waste are also essential aspects that a manufacturer considers when designing the package for a particular product, and a major factor that can contribute to these aspects is ensuring that the package is effective in increasing the shelf life of products.
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This is especially true for consumable food items that can be grabbed on the go, which are in increased demand due to the awareness of healthy eating and additive/ preservative free products and more in risk of having a shorter shelf life; hence, it is very important for the manufacturers to develop a package solution accordingly. Also a longer shelf life insures easy shipping and handling, and in turn reduces costs in that aspect as well.
Since food items are perishable and prone to rotting and/or bacterial growth, not only do the manufacturing processes play a major role but the packaging process and as well as the use of the materials for the package itself are very important when considering adding to the shelf life of the product. Breads if packaged in a way that they are exposed to air, will dry out; fresh fruits and vegetables if are not in a ventilated packaging which results in moisture control will rot; similarly, dairy products such and meats need to have packaging that ensures a flow of gases to maintain a balance and not become stale.
Below are given the descriptions of the two main processes that result in types of effective packaging that can be used to ensure a given shelf life and even may be used to extend it.
Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP)
The most effective form of packaging to ensure a longer shelf life and reduced wastes is the MAP or modified atmosphere packaging. In this packaging the atmosphere inside the package is modified specifically according to the product type for those products that are prone to oxidation. This is done by first vacuuming the air out, removing almost all of the oxygen out of the packaging and then sealing it to ensure that nothing enters or leaves. Also the use of different type of permeable materials for the packaging ensures that no oxygen and moisture enters. Also for such products it is especially important to add that they may need to also be treated in the manufacturing process to further ensure that the retail packaging can be effective. The treatment methods could vary depending on the type of product and include freezing or chilling, and heating or boiling (for example jams, syrups and other cooked condiments), and even drying the product, with added quantities of salt and sugar in some cases, to kill any bacteria and prevent further formation before packaging it.
Modified atmosphere technology also is especially useful when the supply chain process is considerably longer, which is true for products that may be shipped from various further locations and require more shipping time to land on the shelves.
Hermetically Sealed Packaging
A more cost effective option in comparison to modified atmosphere packaging is hermetically sealing or in simpler words making the packaging air tight (without modifying the atmosphere within). This is done without altering the internal atmosphere of the packaging. This takes much less time than modifying the atmosphere, takes less resources and modification to the manufacturing machinery and hence, is more cost effective in sealing the product to ensure that it remains fresh. However, this only extends to the shelf life by a day or two and is not as effective in ensuring a longer period of freshness.
For fresh produce and products that need air to maintain their freshness such as salads and fruits and vegetables, effective packaging would be that has holes for ventilation in food containers with lids or uses materials that allow the permeability of gases and the passing of air both ways to maintain a balance.
For some products that are not consumables, the addition of certain chemicals that absorb moisture to the packaging in the form of a sealed paper pouch is also very effective in ensuring that they do not get spoiled by the addition of moisture.
A combination of modified atmosphere packaging, hermetically sealing and permeable materials can also be used to make a layered package that can be used to increase the shelf life even further. However, most manufacturers opt to use multi layered cardboard packaging boxes added with plastic sleeves which is not environmentally friendly considering the added plastic.
With the technological advancements happening daily, more and more research is being done and Nano materials and processes are being developed that can be used for packaging solutions and result in an effective packaging solution that can cause an extension in the shelf life of products, and be environmentally friendly at the same time. Effective packaging takes into account all of these factors.