IFT Food Summit Report: Food Packaging Innovations by Betty Bugusu and Cory Bryant

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) convened its fifth Research Summit May 7- 9, 2006, in Baltimore, MD. The topic for the summit was “Food Packaging Innovations: The Science, Current Research and Future Needs”. The Summit Committee chair, John Floros, Professor and Head of Pennsylvania State University’s Food Science Department and IFT’s President-Elect for 2006-07 opened the summit by appealing to participants to identify research needs and provide a roadmap for the future of food packaging. Dr. Floros challenged the attendees to focus on where packaging should go in the next 10 to 15 years given an unlimited world of resources. A total of 10 presentations were made by scientists and scholars during the four scientific sessions: food quality and safety needs, material science and technologies, sensing technologies and packaging in the future. The sessions were designed to have main speakers and discussants who also served as session chairs and break-out group leaders. Research needs were identified through an interactive process involving small group discussions. This article provides summaries of the presentations given and a discussion on the identified research needs.

Food Quality and Safety Needs

Food packaging significantly affects quality and safety related changes in food and has a profound impact on shelf life. These changes result from various reactions that occur in food throughout the supply chain. This session was designed to provide information on the basic need for packaging and to set the stage for discussions on how packaging fits in the big picture of keeping the food supply safe. The speakers focused on reactions that occur after the food is placed in the package with special attention to reactions that limit product shelf life or create food safety concerns. Reactions occurring at the product/package interface were also addressed, and relevant regulations discussed.

“Food Quality and Shelf Life”
Joseph H. Hotchkiss, Professor and Chair of the Food Science Department in the Institute of Food Science, Cornell University.

Food is a complex biomaterial that is subject to many biological, chemical, and physical changes that affect its quality and shelf life. Biological changes are caused by microorganisms (spoilage and pathogenic), insects and rodents. Chemical changes result from environmental influences and include oxidation, flavor deterioration, and color loss among others. Physical changes include moisture gain or loss, breakage, textural changes and contamination by foreign materials. Food quality refers to the degree to which a food meets expectations including sensory characteristics (taste, odor, texture, and appearance), nutritional profile, convenience, storage shelf life, safety, and other attributes related to product acceptance. Food quality is measured by several factors including microbial counts and types, nutrient content, color, appearance, and moisture content. Minimum acceptable quality can be set based on regulatory limits, noticeable differences, or customer complaints among others. Shelf life is the time it takes for a food product to deteriorate to an unacceptable degree and is dependent on processing method, storage conditions and form of packaging. The major goals of food packaging are to reduce the rate of quality loss and to increase product shelf life to the extent required by the distribution system. Packaging technologies have been developed to meet these goals such as high barrier packaging and modified atmosphere packaging. Further research into more advanced technologies such as active packaging (e.g. antimicrobial); indicating and sensing materials; and bio-active materials; promises to allow shelf life to be tailored to individual product and market needs.

“Food Quality and Safety Needs: Food Safety Aspects”
Per Væggemose Nielsen, Associate Professor and leader of the research group Quantitative Fungal Physiology in Center for Microbial Biotechnology, Technical University of Denmark

Packaging is an essential part of preservation and quality assurance of foods. The basic functions of packaging are to protect against contaminants and environmental influences such as gases, light and moisture; to cushion against shock during transportation; and to serve as tamper-evidence devices. More importantly, packaging has the ability to hinder or minimize the growth of unwanted microbes in the food. New trends and demands in the global food supply chain present new challenges, which create an increasing demand for safer foods. For example, global food production is tending towards bipolarization, while companies are merging and centralizing production and processing sites resulting in increased distribution of both raw materials and finished products. As a consequence, longer shelf life is demanded. At the same time numerous small niche production sites are appearing with a very different set of food safety challenges. This calls for new research in food packaging as an instrument to ensure a safer global food supply. Other trends and demands that significantly influence food safety are documentation and traceability, legislation, and consumer demand for safer, healthier, more convenient, better tasting, lower cost and environmentally friendly products. Packaging technologies such as modified atmosphere packaging and antimicrobial active packaging based on volatile (essential oils and alcohols) or non-volatile components (chitosan and nisin) have been developed as a result of these demands. The increase in crude oil prices and the growing environmental concerns have led to increased research on alternative packaging materials from renewable or bioderived resources. Food products have specific microorganisms associated with them. However, changes in environmental condition in the package can leave products vulnerable to other microorganisms. Therefore there is need for detailed studies on the interplay among products, related microorganisms and packaging materials. Such knowledge will form the foundation for the development of better preservation methods for new and existing products.

“Food Packaging Regulations”
Sara Risch, Professor and Director, School of Packaging, Michigan State University.

Food packaging in most parts of the world is governed by a mass of laws, regulations, codes of practice and guidelines. In the US, food packaging is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Food regulations are based on prior history, standard test procedures and specific component testing. The threshold of regulation is in place for substances used in food contact materials that may exempt them from regulation as a food additive. In Europe, a positive list of materials that can be used for food packaging is provided along with specific testing procedures. Food packaging regulations must be adhered to in the development of new and modified packaging materials. It is thus important to know the chemical composition of all new materials including, processing aids, all additives and potential breakdown products. In the final analysis, the aim is to develop new materials that do not violate food laws and regulations or impart off-flavors or odors to the packaged product.

Materials Science and Technologies

Novel and advanced polymeric materials are being developed for enhanced food packaging. The development of these materials is based on conventional polymer science methods, as well as newer technologies including biopolymers, nanotechnology and nanocomposites, active and intelligent packaging. This session featured three presentations that focused on the latest developments in packaging materials. Special attention was placed on how these materials may accommodate antimicrobials and other agents that may extend the shelf life of packaged food.

“Polymer/Inorganic Nanocomposites: Opportunities for Food Packaging Applications”
Evangelos Manias
, Materials Science & Engineering, Penn State University

Nanotechnology is the characterization and manipulation of materials with dimensions in the nanometer range, typically 1 to 100 nanometers. Nanotechnology has great potential application in food packaging to improve properties of existing materials (for example increasing barrier properties for plastics) or develop new materials with unique properties. Polymer/inorganic nanocomposites utilize ultrasmall inorganic particles to achieve non-trivial changes in the nature of a polymeric material, and when properly designed and formulated can concurrently improve mechanical, barrier, thermal, and flammability properties. Nanofillers are used in much smaller amounts (1-5 weight %) compared to traditional fillers such as silica (50%) to achieve similar performance. There are several types of polymer/inorganic nanocomposites but this presentation focused on polymer/clay nanocomposites that have potential applications in food packaging. Examples of commercial polymer/clay nanocomposite ventures include: polyamide-6 film for meat packaging or for use as a coating for paperboard juice containers, and polyolefin barrier food packaging/wrapping films. The main advantage of these systems is the opportunities that they afford to uncouple and independently improve material properties: for example these composites can be of high barrier performance and still flexible and transparent, of high stiffness and still be ductile and lightweight, of increased softening temperature but still processable and ductile. Polymer/inorganic nanocomposites are thus a viable technology for “new” materials with various functionalities for food packaging applications.

“Bio-based Materials for a Sustainable Future in Packaging”
Amar K. Mohanty
, Associate Professor, School of Packaging, Michigan State University

Biobased materials in conjunction with nanotechnology are expected to create a major breakthrough in the plastic packaging industries. The biobased materials (polymeric blends/composites/nanocomposites) can find niche applications in both the flexible and rigid packaging sectors. The future of packaging will be sustainable if it is designed through innovative and synergistic research approaches. New material development is now transitioning from hydrocarbon chemistry (petroleumbased) to carbohydrate chemistry (biomass derived). The switch to a bio-based economy can be a challenge to agricultural, forestry, academia, government and industrial sectors. This is due to the growing urgency to develop and commercialize natural resource-based materials and innovative technologies and to make them sustainable. The higher and unstable prices of petroleum, the growing environmental concern, and the need for national security are some of the driving forces influencing the switch. Green polymers like poly(lactic acid), PLA; polyhydroxyalkanoates, PHAs; starch plastics; and bio-based poly(trimethylene terephthalate) show great potential in greening the packaging industry. The aim is not to develop new materials wholly from renewable resources but to develop materials containing the maximum permissible content of bio-derived materials while still maintaining cost-performance attributes. For example bio-based materials have been developed through blending of brittle PLA/PHA with biodegradable polyester.. Natural fibers like kenaf, industrial hemp, henequen, pineapple leaf fiber and even local grasses can be reinforced with bioplastics to produce superior performance biocomposite materials with opportunities for application in rigid packaging. Organoclay reinforcement of biopolymers can be used to develop biobased materials with superior mechanical, thermal and barrier performances. Chemistry plays a vital role and thus possesses several opportunities and challenges, such as effective chemical modification of reinforcements (fiber/clay), use of novel coupling agents, and matrix modification. Hyperbranched polymer based modification of bio-plastic creates tougher materials with good stiffness properties. Besides chemistry, effective process engineering (extrusion/compression/injection/blow molding/cast film/blown film) and structure-property co-relationships also play vital roles in finding sustainable development of such new materials. Collaboration between academic and industry personnel/researchers is important to propel development of new biobased materials for a sustainable future of the packaging industry.

“State of the Art of Active and Intelligent packaging”

Aaron Brody, President and CEO, Packaging/Brody, Inc. and Adjunct Professor, University of Georgia

Active packaging senses change in the internal or external environment of a food package and responds by altering its properties to help better deliver the food product. Intelligent packaging senses changes and signals them. It is expected that intelligent packaging signals may be upgraded to active ones to help control the environment and thus enhance the safety or quality retention of the contained product. Examples of active packaging systems include: moisture control, purge or other liquids control, oxygen removal or addition, carbon dioxide addition, antimicrobial activity, adverse odor removal, desirable scent addition, content heating or cooling, ethylene removal, and microwave heating controllers. Intelligent packaging concepts include: maximum temperature indicators, time temperature integrators, location signalers, shelf life surrogates, spoilage and pathogen indicators, gas concentration indicators, internal gas controllers, communications links with appliances, nutritional attributes, ripeness, communications with consumers or their care givers, and compliance with medical directions. Much of the research and development in active packaging centers on moisture control (desiccant sachets or cartridges), and purge control (absorbent pads) that have been commercial for decades. Oxygen scavengers such as sachets with ferrous iron, nylon MXD6 in beer bottles, benzoacrylates in film, and sulfites in beer bottle closures and antimicrobials such as silver salts, carbon dioxide generators and ethyl alcohol have limited commercial use. Research is underway on use of natural spices as antimicrobials. Chlorine dioxide antimicrobial and self heating technology were removed from the market in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Major research and development is underway on the following intelligent packaging: radio frequency identification (RFID), inventory controllers, theft protection devices, food safety and/or quality signaling devices and time temperature integrators. Beyond moisture and purge control, most active packaging technologies have limited commercial application because much has centered on the active component and not on its applicability. A similar situation has prevailed in much of intelligent packaging. This sub-section of the industry needs a single independent unbiased resource to evaluate the industry and academic offerings to measure their true value to food packaging.

Sensing Technologies

This session reviewed the latest research developments on biosensors and other sensing technologies, with specific attention to rapid detection of microbial activity, biochemical activity and other reactions that cause food deterioration. Potential mechanisms for integration of these sensors into food packaging were also discussed.

“Sensors for Food Quality and Safety: Detection and Characterization”
Joseph Irudayaraj
, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University and co-director Physiological Sensing Facility at the Bindley Biosciences Center at Purdue’s Discovery Park

Novel sensing technologies using bio or nano materials can be used to detect quality and safety attributes in packaged foods. These sensing technologies range from rapid non-destructive and non-contact to highly specialized micro and nanobiosensing structures. Micro- and nano-based sensors that utilize a variety of transduction mechanisms to sense microbial and biochemical changes in food products are being explored. The following are examples of technologies with potential application in food quality and safety detection. Non-contact ultrasound imaging technique can be used to detect foreign objects such as glass or bone fragments in boneless chicken or cheese. Spectroscopy methods, such as the Midinfrared Photoacoustic, Fourier Transform Raman and possibly Near Infrared can be used for rapid assessment of microbial contamination of food surfaces or packaging films. Biosensor technologies that are based on coupling of a ligandreceptor interaction to a transducer have more specific detection capabilities. Optical biosensors such as SPR (surface plasmon resonance) based pathogen detection systems provide for selective detection of microbial species. Mid-infrared biosensors, which combine biosensing and spectroscopy capabilities, may provide improved pathogen detection specificity. Further, research and development involving production of nano-structures such as nanorods, tubes, wires, and belts is underway. These technologies have great potential for rapid detection of microbial and biochemical activities in food. The major challenge of integrating these technologies into packaging systems is not only compounded by the complexity and varying needs of the food and package systems but also by the lack of available information on what defines quality and what defines safety.

“NanoBio Sensors and Integrated Microsystems for intelligent food packaging”
Mahadevan K. Iyer
, Research Director, Microsystems Packaging Research Center, Georgia Institute of Technology

The potential susceptibility of the food supply chain to natural or intentional contamination could result in compromised safety and quality of foods. Nano-bio sensors and integrated micro systems could play a significant role of detecting deteriorative changes in food packaging. .In intelligent food packaging appropriate sensing technologies are required to detect substances in parts per trillion for food safety, quality and process control. Development of new sensing devices may be achieved by taking advantage of miniaturization of electronics and nano-bio materials. These novel sensing systems can be used to facilitate on-line analysis of food stuffs. The devices can also be used to determine specific components in food and drinks such as sugars, proteins, vitamins and fats and to detect and quantify chemical contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals, and antibiotics. They can also be used to detect pathogenic bacteria (E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Vibrio), viruses, toxins (Staphylococcus Enterotoxins, Botulinum neurotoxins, mycotoxins and Paralytic/Diarrhetic shellfish toxins), and to monitor the freshness of aquatic foods including fish, and fermentation processes. Multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) exhibit unique properties that make them ideal for the design of nanobio sensors for the detection of sub-femtogram quantities of target protein, DNA, and RNA. Single-crystal zinc oxide (ZnO) nanobelts/wires, silicon and gallium nitride nanowires and micro resonators open a new field of biosensor technology for the fabrication of highly sensitive biosensors. The selectivity, sensitivity and rapidity of nanobio sensors represent a vast improvement over conventional detection systems. Integration of sensing, data storage and communication components with food packaging provides the necessary intelligence of these systems. The integration of selective multiple system functions, such as analog or RF as well as sensing and fluidic functions, into one compact, low weight, low cost unit is the concept of an integrated microsystem. The integration of biosensor with micro systems further revolutionizes the performance of these biosensors with respect to sensitivity and resolution, accuracy, repeatability, dynamic range, speed of response and cost. Research is underway at Georgia Institute of Technology to embed electronic components in ultra thin polymer substrate materials integrated with nanobio sensors and radio frequency identification components that may have beneficial application in food packaging.

Packaging in the Future.

A systems approach was used in this session to integrate the concepts discussed in previous three sessions to present a thought-provoking perspective about the role of packaging in our future food system. The session covered current and future global trends ranging from social, to environmental to technological and how they affect food packaging. Specific trends discussed included population growth and diversity, lifestyle, and health among others. The goal was to examine these trends with emphasis on what would determine consumer needs such as convenience and what research can deliver. This session also covered opportunities for use of the package as a communication tool to convey information to the consumer.

“Packaging and our Food System in the Future”
John Floros
, Professor and Head, Department of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University.

Development of new technologies including packaging innovations is often driven by consumer needs, which are directly influenced by the ever changing global trends. These major global trends include population size and growth rate, race and ethnicity, age structure, household size and structure, education, employment, income level and distribution, and obesity. Predicted changes in some of these trends by the year 2050 are discussed below. Population in Europe is expected to decrease, while that of the US is expected to increase mainly due to immigration. The population of developing countries will continue to increase rapidly in urban areas, while it is expected to level off in rural areas. In the US, the number of people age 60 years or older is growing, and the Hispanic population is increasing fast. Over the years, the portion of their disposable income Americans spent on food has decreased to about 10%, and it is now equally split between food consumed “athome” and “away from home.” Other factors that may influence technology development include environmental issues such as global warming, water and energy shortages, land use, sustainable agriculture, globalization of the food system, emerging organic and whole foods market demands, and animal rights and compassion issues. All these global trends coupled with the worldwide obesity epidemic call for diversification of products and technologies. Food packaging will also be influenced by important consumer needs for taste, convenience, health and safety. In addition, innovations in other areas of science and technology, including nutrigenomics, biotechnology, materials science, nanotechnology, information technologies, etc., will heavily influence innovations in food packaging. It is important to carefully analyze all these trends, issues, needs and technologies in order to address the ever-changing consumer needs and advance food packaging into the future.

Future Research Needs

The summit participants identified, discussed and reached consensus on the major research and information needs that are necessary to advance the field of food packaging. The following is a summary of that discussion:

Materials Science and Technologies
Scalping and migration of components, such as flavors, presents major challenges during development of new packaging materials. Three key research areas that need to be explored were identified:

a) Kinetics of release and absorption. Kinetics is a bridge between food science and packaging. Understanding the kinetics of release and/or absorption of the various food components (such as flavors and odors) or package components (such as controlled release packaging materials, as needed for active packaging) is critical to the development of appropriate packaging materials for specific foods. A better understanding of the kinetics of release, which varies with compounds, is necessary in order to develop materials that allow sustained delivery. Kinetic constants for each component in a multi-component system would be required in order to identify the optimum packaging materials. Development of a packaging material to minimize absorption of a food component requires knowledge of absorption kinetics to ensure that desired shelf-life of the product can be achieved.

b) Permselectivity. Permselectivity is the ratio of the permeability coefficient of carbon dioxide to that of oxygen. The general relationship is that as permeability increases, selectivity invariably decreases. The magnitude of the desired permselectivity will vary with product due to the unique local atmosphere (carbon dioxide/oxygen) needed to extend the shelf-life of each product. Research on development of materials with high permeability, while minimizing selectivity is needed. Packaging materials with a range of permselectivity magnitudes (depending on desired shelf life) are needed for improvement of shelf life of a variety of products. For example materials with high permselectivity are desired for controlled atmosphere packaging for fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables. Development of materials with optimized permeation rates for specific food products is also desired.

c) Barrier properties. Barrier to physical, chemical and biological influences is an important property of packaging materials. Existing materials could be modified or new materials developed with improved barrier properties. Also, 9 materials that maintain high barrier properties with changing temperature and humidity are desired.

Bio-based Materials
Bio-based materials are made from renewable resources such as starch, cellulose and soy protein. The major driving forces to develop bio-based materials are the rising prices of petroleum and environmental concerns. Bio-based materials offer an alternative for reduced dependence on oil, the source of most currently used packaging materials. Bio-materials based on poly(lactic) acid have been available for some time, but industrial application has been limited. Technical and economic feasibility studies such as cost-benefit analysis need to be completed in order to encourage commercial applications. Additional research on identification of appropriate additives and processing aids to improve functionality could increase utilization of bio-based materials for food packaging. For example, research should identify appropriate plasticizers for bio-based materials, since these components may differ from those currently used for petro-based materials. Other resources should be explored for development of new green polymers with properties to match conventional polymers. The use of waste materials from production of value-added products is encouraged. In addition, research to determine compatibility of these materials with food products is needed.

Nanotechnology has many potential applications to food packaging, especially in development of materials with improved mechanical, thermal and barrier properties. Although considerable research is underway, more emphasis on safety and risk assessment of nano-scale materials is needed.

Active Packaging
Commercialization of active packaging technologies with the exception of moisture and purge control has been relatively slow. Furthermore some of the offerings have been poorly tested, or did not function as intended. There is a need for a single independent unbiased resource to evaluate the value of existing and upcoming food packaging technologies. Another research limitation in active packaging is associated with controlled release packaging. The most promising opportunities involve slow release of active compounds such as antimicrobials and antioxidants from the package to food for enhancing quality and safety during prolonged storage. There is a general need to develop materials with the ability to release the active ingredient at rates suitable for various packaging applications. Considerable research has been completed on antimicrobial packaging, especially on the use of nisin to control microbial growth and extend the shelf life of food. Since cost of application seems to be prohibitive, a cost benefit analysis is needed in an effort to enhance feasibility.

Intelligent Packaging
Research on the integration of thin film electronics into food packaging (system on the package) with accurate monitoring/verification procedures and corrective actions is needed in order to have broad impact on intelligent food packaging. Low cost sensing devices that sense food status, such as volatile organics sensors, timetemperature integrals, humidity sensors, and infiltrated of harmful bacteria sensors, and communicate such information to manufacturers and consumers using wireless 10 interfaces such as RFID tags are needed. Polymer compatible thin film functional electronic components (such as antenna), thin film embedded actives (reader, amplifier) and embedded nano-sensing devices will enable the convergence of low cost electronic systems into food packaging, leading to the implementation of intelligent food packaging.

Other New Materials
New food processes or changes in existing processes dictate research on packaging materials to be used. For example research is needed on materials for use during microwave heating to provide a range of cooking times, uniformity of heating, improved browning and crisping during heating of heavy loads and to cater for increase in microwave wattage. Due to current concerns about obesity and in an effort to promote health and wellness, the food service sector has recognized the need to implement portion control resulting in the switch from bulk to portion packaging. New packaging materials are needed to facilitate this shift.

Life Cycle Assessment
Life cycle assessment for new packaging materials, such as nano-based and biobased materials, is essential for their success. This is a comprehensive analysis of materials from production to disposal in order to determine their environmental impact. It involves evaluation of the materials and energy usage in product manufacture and use and evaluation of the type and amount of waste generated. Uniform criteria or a universal model with standard inputs and outputs is needed to evaluate packaging materials. Analysis of the performance and sustainability of new materials, especially the bio-based materials, is also required to document their advantages over conventional petro-based materials. Investigations into the compatibility of new materials with food products are important.

Materials Safety
Safety studies must be completed for all new materials and technologies. For example the potential release of mutagens/carcinogens needs to be evaluated. Other issues of material use and disposal include the potential safety problems of breakdown products.

Sensing Technologies
Summit participants concluded that sensors need to be integrated at the processing stage of the food supply chain, as well as in bulk container packaging or storage facilities. Sensors are a critical component of packaging in order to maintain flow of information throughout the supply chain and to allow for traceability of the product. Sensors facilitate in-plant or in-process validation as well as detection of contamination. They may be used in combination with or to complement HACCP programs. Sensing technologies are readily available but research on mechanisms for incorporation in food packaging is needed. For example, identification of strategic locations in the sample or package for effective detection is lacking. Research to establish compatibility of sensors with various packaging materials and structures should be pursued. Sensors should enhance the role of the package as a communication tool for consumers by conveying information on product usage, proper handling and storage, and as indicators for product rotation in the home pantry or refrigerator.

Food Safety and Quality Sensors
Research on the quality and/or safety indicators to be sensed or measured in a given food needs to be conducted. Models that predict changes in terms of safety, quality and shelf life of food are important in the development of sensors. Safetyrelated sensors including microbiological sensors that detect specific pathogens in food are a relatively recent development. Additional research is needed in development of sensors that can detect several different microorganisms simultaneously. For example, a single sensor that could detect the most prevalent foodborne pathogens in a given food would be ideal. Research is needed on development of quality related sensors to detect metabolites or byproducts of degradation reactions in food. Other product quality attributes such as pH and staleness could be used as indicators for sensor development.

Sensing for Intentional Contamination
Summit participants agreed that intentional contamination must be differentiated from accidental contamination in foods. Sensors to be used in combination with tamper evidence packaging would be useful. On-going research will develop sensors for detection of chemical contaminants. A universal sensor with the capability to detect multiple toxins would be ideal. A better understanding of the changes (quality and shelf life) in food associated with intentional contamination is needed for sensor development. In addition, the development of software or algorithms for data gathering/collection, processing, and storage to be used in the integration and transmission of information in real-time for quick decision making, should be given elevated priority.

Collaboration on packaging research activities is essential to improve decision making and to advance food packaging. There is a need for material research scientists to reach out to scientists in other disciplines such as electronics, microbiology and medicine in order to create a multidisciplinary approach for technology development. Collaboration between industry and academic research groups is also beneficial. In addition, there is a need to involve nonbiased groups in research in order to help push technologies. Such a system should allow networking and collective thinking in anticipation of key research issues.

Education and Communication
Consumer perception is viewed as the most significant factor in limiting the application of new packaging technologies. This is due, in part, to the lack of understanding of the technical research, or misinformation about the technologies. Researchers need to device means to convey information to the public for better understanding of the available technologies. The need to translate technical information into a form that communicates more clearly to the consumer should help overcome resistance to new technologies. Consumers need to gain a better understanding of the applications and safety of new technologies such as nanotechnology, and use of sensors in tamper evidence packaging. In addition, employee training is necessary in order to gain a better understanding of new technologies and to properly interpret the technology output. It is also important to establish a mechanism for exchange of information between all stakeholders including government, industry, academia, media, consumers and groups that 12 represent them. Formation of a consortium or forum to engage stakeholders on food packaging issues would be valuable.

Specific Research Needs

  • Measure and publish kinetic parameters for release and absorption of key food components for packaging materials.
  • Develop packaging materials for specific permselectivity constants and permeability ratios for improved controlled/modified atmosphere packaging of foods.
  • Develop food packaging materials with improved barrier properties.
  • Comprehensive research on bio-materials should focus on compatibility of materials with food products, as well as economic and technical feasibility.
  • Research on nano-materials should include safety and risk assessment. 
  • Develop packaging materials with release rates to match reaction rates for food deterioration during active packaging.
  • Research on integration of thin film electronics and sensors into food packaging and development of low cost on-package systems for intelligent packaging
  • Research on packaging of foods for microwave preparation is needed in response to current trends in microwave technology.
  • The concepts of life-cycle assessment should be incorporated into development of food packaging materials.
  • Research on packaging materials for food contact must include migration studies and careful attention to the safety of compounds released by the materials.
  • Research on food packaging sensors should focus on the compatibility between sensor and packaging material, as well as compatibility with foods.
  • Sensor research for food packaging must identify specific sensors for microbiological and chemical degradation products from foods during storage. 
  • Development of specific sensors for intentional contamination of foods should be considered.


The focus of food packaging is to improve the safety, quality and shelf life of food products as well as to provide consumer convenience and satisfaction. The pressing question is “where do we go with packaging?” to meet this goal. There is a need to prioritize the identified research areas in order to come up with packaging that significantly improves the delivery of safe, high quality food to the consumer. Betty Bugusu, Ph.D., is Research Scientist, Dept. of Science & Technology Projects, Institute of Food Technologists, 1025 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 503, Washington, DC 02236-5422.