Aaron L. Brody

The sweltering days of New Orleans’ summer will be tempered for most IFT Annual Meeting participants by air conditioning within the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and by the powerful and very liberal outpouring of (mostly) relevant information on contemporary food packaging.

PackagingMinds tuned to food packaging have been inundated during the initial years of this millennium with hundreds, if not thousands, of issuances on radiofrequency identification, nanocomposites, red color on case-ready meat, nonthermal processing and packaging, modified-atmosphere packaging, and active—and more intelligent—packaging. And the university community has been drizzling edible, biodegradable, compostable, and natural packaging on the periphery of food packaging, seeking a commercial entry.

Both sectors of current interest will be probed in depth during the 2005 IFT Annual Meeting Technical Program and exhibited and discussed in numerous nooks at the IFT Food Expo® for those who seek aggressively.

Through presentations by IFT’s dynamic Food Packaging Division, boosted by its new, more formal relationship with the Institute of Packaging Professionals (through sharing of board members and linkages of short courses), IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo attendees can capture food packaging’s key and integral role in safe delivery of food quality and convenience.

Food packaging is so important and pervading to all food scientists and technologists that 32 oral and poster presentations have been scheduled throughout the Technical Program. A sampling of the multiplicity of offerings is summarized here, along with brief descriptions of some of the packaging-related exhibits, suggesting ways that food and food packaging scientists and technologists have an opportunity to peer into the future.

Radiofrequency Identification
While not strictly a food packaging issue, since it embraces all of distribution packaging, radiofrequency identification (RFID) has received so much technical and media attention that it warrants an entire session to capture and explain the facts, issues, and relevance to food scientists and technologists. Accordingly, Bruce Welt of the University of Florida (shown in photo) has assembled a formidable set of cutting-edge insights into this subject in session 15, "The Dawn of RFID: What We Have Learned and Where Are We Going?"

Welt’s Packaging Science laboratory/pilot plant is one of the better-equipped RFID research facilities in the country. In conjunction with industry partners, the laboratory’s efforts are focused on the development of industry-specific RFID best practices, researching and developing novel auto-identification/RFID (AI/RFID), and specifying and designing new AI/RFID hardware and software. Typical RFID performance evaluation data for packaged fresh produce illustrate types of experiments required to develop product-specific best-practices guidelines. Moisture and distance are among the interfering challenges facing those who are fascinated by the promise of RFID in controlling the food supply chain. In simpler terms, the implementation of RFID is not nearly as easy as the advocates would have listeners and readers believe. Paper 15-1.

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Where might this all be going? One of RFID’s major supply chain drivers and leaders, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is collaborating with its top 100 suppliers and 30+ additional companies in a pilot operation to use RFID in distributing product from their distribution facilities to their stores. The suppliers include four produce companies. Theoretically, Wal-Mart will be able to identify which items have been received, stocked, and scanned at the register, or those that are out of stock. Managers can see which units are scanned in their data tables, allowing better inventory flow and stocking at shelf level. Key areas of focus are shipping and receiving inventory validation, auto-identification, out-of-stock alerts, and perpetual inventory comparisons. Paper 15-6.

With the nation’s largest retailer behind the initiative, can time–temperature integration and spoilage and quality indicators using RFID signalers be far behind? Session 15 on Sunday afternoon will begin to answer that intriguing question.

Active Packaging for Nonthermal Processing
In session 57, marrying nonthermal processing and active packaging, Jung Han, James Yuan, and their collaborators have perhaps breached the barriers to the effective near-term commercial implementation of both technologies.

I open the session by raising questions in my overview presentation. Some nonthermal processes such as ultra-high pressure and ionizing radiation are known to stress plastic package materials and structures in previously unknown manners. Might they be adversely affected, or enhanced, by, for example, extra pressure? Active packaging certainly produces effects that warrant further investigation for efficacy, if not safety. Paper 57-1.

In his presentation on modified microflora for shelf life extension, American Air Liquide’s James Yuan offers an intriguing technology, called Bio-map, for transforming modified-atmosphere packaging: combining it with other technologies such as high-pressure processing and irradiation. Why didn’t we think of this before—or did we, only to have it lost in the archives before its return to the forefront here? Paper 57-3.

This session is replete with tantalizing thoughts of what might be—or what future researchers will be piggybacking on to gain advantages in food preservation.

Packaging for Novel Food Processes
In session 39, "Advances in Packaging Technology Required for Implementation on Novel Food Processes," IFT's 2005 Myron Solberg Award winner Pat Dunne and Virginia Tech’s Joe Marcy have assembled a formidable array of visionaries to enjoin the future. The novel food processes to be discussed include nonthermal and unique rapid thermal processes, all of which place unusual challenges on packaging.

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High-oxygen modified-atmosphere packaging appears to be a preferred case-ready package format for ground beef by reducing the rate of oxymyoglobin oxidation and inhibiting the growth of the spoilage bacteria. The presence of oxygen during irradiation results in ozone, which severely oxidizes the red oxymyoglobin to brown metmyoglobin, a color undesirable to consumers. Irradiation of ground beef in the absence of oxygen followed by packaging in a high-oxygen modified atmosphere results in extended shelf life. Paper 39-1.

Microwave energy and radiofrequency energy hold promise to produce high-quality ambient-temperature shelf-stable foods. They interact directly with foods to generate heat in hermetically sealed polymeric containers but with much-reduced process times. Microwave processing times in microwave-transparent plastic barrier films might permit one of these technologies to emerge commercially in this country. Paper 39-2.

The behavior of plastic polymers suggests that the interplay of polymer molecules under high pressure produces an assortment of often-antagonistic actions which may result in transient or permanent changes to the package. When solubility is increased, decompression results in flashing of supersaturated compounds with subsequent blistering in laminations. Differential compressibility among various laminate layers may also result in delamination. Paper 39-4.

Despite the obvious benefits, ultra-high-pressure processing still has some challenges to meet and overcome, a topic that will become much more apparent during this session on nonthermal processing.

Other Food Packaging Presentations
Presentations in other food packaging sessions will encompass a wide range of relevant topics.

Ultrasonic imaging is an emerging inspection technology that can be implemented to detect and remove defective hermetically sealed flexible and semi-rigid food packages and reduce recalls. For those searching for a reliable technique for measuring seal integrity, the revitalization of ultrasonic sensing may hold promise. Paper 54D-19.

Using an electronic nose enables good discrimination between the various qualities of polymers and provides an objective means to ensure the organoleptic conformity of plastics food packaging from the raw material to the final product. Paper 54D-20.

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The food systems designed to provide the crew with a variety of safe, nutritious, acceptable food products during a NASA mission to Mars will likely contain preprocessed foods, bulk ingredients, and crops grown on the planet. This paper will discuss the packaging waste generated for a variety of food packaging scenarios for the mission. Paper 54D-26.

Sulfur dioxide is the dominant method to control mold growth and browning of some fresh produce products. A limit of 10 ppm in the food products restricts the applications of this active chemical. A device to emit gas-phase sulfur dioxide in the package could prevent undesirable processes. This device adds sodium metabisulfite solution to a sheet coated with activated charcoal, and sulfur dioxide is generated immediately after exposure to air and humidity. Paper 54 D-28.

Traditionally, antioxidants are incorporated into food formulations, but once the antioxidants are consumed in reaction, protection ceases and food quality degradation increases rapidly. Antioxidant packaging is designed to overcome this limitation by continuously replenishing antioxidants via controlled release from packaging. Conventional extrusion processes use a single-screw extruder to blend the polymers. Smart blending, a process based on chaotic advection, uses two rods to blend the polymers, creating unique film morphologies. It can be used to produce polymer-blend films with release rates—of almost any additive—suitable for a wide range of food applications. Paper 54D-32.

Carbon monoxide, recently approved as a modified-atmosphere packaging gas for retail packaging of meat, has the potential to extend color shelf life in case-ready beef. This paper will discuss its use with high-oxygen MAP packaging on beef strip loin quality. Paper 89F-6.

Another paper will discuss how use of alpha-tocopherol in active packaging can preserve the red oxymyoglobin color in case-ready fresh meat. Paper 89F-7.

Session 109, last on the program schedule, features oral presentations encompassing all manner of exciting innovations that will affect all of food packaging.

Learning More About Packaging
This hint of the many food packaging presentations at the IFT Annual Meeting is intended to entice food scientists into learning more about the technologies of protecting their food products in the distribution system. Details can be obtained by actively participating in the sessions themselves and by reading the September issue of Food Technology, which will contain more on this important topic.

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Here are descriptions of some of the packaging-related exhibits:
• Direct-drive can seamers, Models 25D (shown in photo) and UD-AL, are customized for seaming lightweight metal ends onto round, rigid containers. The seamers are available for atmospheric, vacuum, vacuum/gas, or multiflush double seaming at 2–30 cans/min. Other equipment for low-volume packaging and canning include retorts, line exhausters, blanchers, tables, sinks, and more. Brochures describing the company’s newest Dixie No. 3 Retort and Automatic Retort Control System Package No. 5 and other retort packages will be available at the booth, as will information about the Oxcide™ water treatment/conditioning chemical developed by Chem Fresh, Inc. The chemical prevents scale buildup in pipes and wash-down areas and prolongs the life of filters, improves equipment efficiency, and decreases maintenance costs. Continued use of the product descales mineral deposits and prevents new scale from forming. Dixie Canner Co., www.dixiecanner.com, Booth 1938.

• Flat-bottom multiwall pinch bag features a mitered bottom with an ultrasonic seal. The bag is also heat-sealed, making it a sift-proof bag. The flat or square bottom created by the mitered corners makes pallets more stable, resulting in less product damage during shipping. The bottom of the bag becomes as wide as the side gussets, giving a larger advertising panel on the bag bottom. The company is the first packaging manufacturer in the United States to buy the equipment to make this new bag—the Windmoeller & Hoelscher PB 2555 Pinch Bottomer Bag Machine and AM 8115 Tuber. The resulting bag, called the Mitered Bottom Open Mouth Pinch Bag, is said to provide better protection against contamination, moisture, oxygen, grease and any possible infestation. Gateway Packaging Co., www.gatewaypackaging.com, Booth 2066.

• Ready-to-fill bulk container serves as a more-efficient replacement for most drums, returnable totes, bottle-in-cage IBCs, and other corrugated IBCs. The ReadyFillIBC system is designed to carry up to 330 gal of liquid, replacing up to six drums and sharply reducing the time and labor required for filling, emptying, and handling multiple containers. When used in place of returnable totes, it eliminates the high cost of maintenance and return transportation, and, unlike other corrugated IBCs, it requires no labor for assembly or setup prior to filling. The system is specifically designed to allow for in-line filling with automated drum and tote filling stations, eliminating the need for off-line filling and additional handling. Once filled, the IBC allows for easy dispensing of the product, allowing customers to pump from the top or drain from the bottom side. The system also includes an optional built-in valve with a tapered sump to facilitate maximum product evacuation on the end-user’s line, eliminating the need to attach a separate valve to the container. A tamper-evident sealed spout protects the integrity of the product while in transit to a customer’s facility, and a tamper-evident tape secures the outer cap once the container is filled. International Paper, www.internationalpaper.com, Booth 749.

• Scavengers solve problems with oxygen, moisture, or odors within packaging. In addition to extending the shelf life of food, they can maintain the color and flavor of food in the package to increase the appeal of the food and increase sales. In addition to oxygen absorbers, desiccants, and odor absorbers, the company now offers humectant technology to provide stable relative humidity within a package or sealed environment. The technology can keep the moisture level within a narrow tolerance of a set relative humidity. Multisorb Technologies, www.multisorb.com, Booth 548.

• Aseptic packaging and processing solutions lock in the freshness and flavor of foods, naturally. The company's signature aseptic technology helps keep even the most sensitive foods like fresh milk safe, nutritious, and naturally delicious for months, without the need for refrigeration or preservatives. The company helps nutritional beverage companies formulate new products and works with dairy, juice, and other beverage companies to enhance the nutritional value and safety of their existing products. For nutritional beverages, packaging systems ensure that nutrients are not lost and the product retains the flavor and freshness that are critical to health-conscious consumers. Tetra Pak Inc., www.tetrapak.com, Booth 356.

• International alliance of packaging producers, BagEra, has been formed to provide packaging products and services to multinational customers. Formed by Bulk Lift International, the oldest and largest manufacturer of flexible intermediate bulk containers in North America, Boxon in Sweden and Germany, and Framapack in France, the alliance has clean-room applications, HACCP and ISO 9000–approved manufacturing facilities, and worldwide warehousing and distribution centers. Bulk Lift International, Inc., www.bulklift.com, Booth 966.

Contributing Editor
President and CEO,
Packaging/Brody, Inc., Duluth, Ga.
[email protected]

In This Article

  1. Food Processing & Packaging