What is active packaging? Types and functions

Technology

The future of food packaging is packaging that increases shelf life without compromising on quality. This technological development is called active packaging and represents a revolution in the food industry.

Let’s take a look at active packaging for food applications , and its types, advantages and functions.

WHAT IS ACTIVE PACKAGING AND WHY WAS IT CREATED?

Active packaging is a packaging system that is coordinated to maintain and even improve the health properties, organoleptic properties and quality of the packaged food product, thereby extending its shelf-life.

It was developed as a response to the demands of modern consumers, who want fresh products that are easy to consume and often semi-prepared. The health-food trend also played a role, as consumers prefer products that use fewer treatments, including fewer preservatives, but have a long storage time.

TYPES OF ACTIVE PACKAGING

There are different types of active packaging depending on the systems used. They can be categorised as follows:

Active packaging with temperature systems: these are systems that allow the food to be heated or cooled, and that can also increase the temperature inside the packaging. This is the case of our VSteam bag, which allows the product to be cooked and consumed in the bag itself.

Active packaging with absorber and emitter systems: absorbers eliminate unwanted substances, such as oxygen, ethylene, excess moisture and certain tastes and smells. Emitters, on the other hand, emit anti-microbial substances, such as carbon dioxide and ethanol.

Active packaging with systems that modify the composition of the food or interact with it: extensive research has enabled materials to be addititivised with natural extracts. These additives can be anti-microbial, taste-absorbent and smell-absorbent, enzymatic or anti-oxidant. It is important to remember, however, that all developments in this area have to comply with  food safety standards, in terms of authorised substances and the requirements for food-contact materials.

HOW ACTIVE PACKAGING WORKS

Active packaging works in two ways:

Placing the active element inside the packaging: a small packet, envelope or label is placed inside the packaging with the product. This can release, for example, an anti-microbial substance to slow the process of deterioration, or can capture oxygen to ensure the food doesn’t go off.

Incorporating the active element into the packaging material itself: Through extrusion, lamination or printing. This mechanism is more attractive for consumers, as there are no strange objects in the product packaging to confuse them.

ADVANTAGES OF ACTIVE PACKAGING AND FUTURE APPLICATIONS

The advantages of active packaging for food applications include an extended shelf-life for food products, which translates into a later expiry date, reduction in food waste, and distribution further from the point of origin.SP Group collaborates on different projects focusing on active and biodegradable packaging. Some examples are the AVANZA-S project, which is investigating how to reduce food waste and use fewer resources in the sector by creating advanced packaging for the fresh meat industry; and the BIOBARACTIVE project, which aims to create the first packaging for processed meat products that is made of multi-layer materials, has a gas barrier, and is also totally biodegradable and compostable.

Regarding future applications, research is currently focusing on new systems, such as stickers that detect whether the cold chain has been broken, traffic light adhesives that detect the ethylene given off by fruit to show how ripe it is, and packaging that has tiny microchips incorporated into it. However, all of these must be studied carefully to see how they affect product safety.

UV BLOCK: BETTER FOOD PROTECTION

UV Block by SP GROUP is a UV-Visible filter that is used in packaging for oily and fatty products such as fish, fatty meat, and nuts, which are at risk of oxidation when exposed to light.

The UV BLOCK prevents the oxidation of vitamins, colours and fats, and is highly effective at protecting the food on a microbiological level. This filter does not affect the mechanical properties of the packaging or the visualisation of the food.

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