Active and intelligent: Smart packaging for F&B efficiency

Active and intelligent: Smart packaging for F&B efficiency

Food packaging has come a long way in recent years. It’s not just about branding, or how a product looks on a shelf – technological innovations in packaging are helping food companies protect the nutritional value of their products, and extend shelf life.

Two such innovations are known as active packaging (AP) and intelligent packaging (IP). So what does AP and IP actually do; and how could it help your F&B business?

Active packaging can improve and extend the quality of food products

AP is made from active food contact materials, which absorb or release specific substances that can improve the quality of packaged food, or extend its shelf life.

Active food packaging can slow down the process of food degradation – including lipid oxidation, microbial growth, and moisture loss. The purpose of different AP systems differ, but they’re always engineered to respond to adaptations in the atmosphere either inside or outside the package. It either adds components to the packaged food, or takes components out of the food.

Different AP systems include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Ethylene absorbers
  • Films containing antimicrobials
  • Oxygen scavengers
  • Products that emit ethanol
  • Carbon dioxide emitters or absorbers
  • Moisture absorbers
  • Systems that absorb or release flavours

For the packaging, storage and transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables, for example, AP can stall the deterioration from oxidation or uncontrolled ripening – helping to ensure that when the product arrives in the consumer’s hands, it’s in good fresh condition, or pre-ripened condition.

Intelligent packaging monitors the state of food

While AP can actively improve and protect the quality of food, IP monitors the condition of that food or the environment around it – with functions like providing accurate data on food freshness. IP can sense environmental changes and then communicate that data to users throughout the food supply chain.

As well as the surrounding environment, different systems can monitor the state of the food itself, or even interactions between packaged food products that affect freshness and quality.

There are three main categories of IP:

  1. Time-temperature indicators – to monitor the temperature of food while it’s being stored or transported.
  2. Freshness indicators – to monitor the freshness of food.
  3. Tamper-evident packaging – to detect whether a package has been opened or altered.

Food contact materials are tightly regulated

Because they’re used in direct contact with consumer food products, the contact materials used in AP and IP are regulated by government bodies. The particular materials and chemicals used depend on the function of the packaging – but as noted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), “the safety of food contact materials requires evaluation as chemicals can migrate from these materials into food.”

In the EU, food contact materials must be manufactured in compliance with EU regulations – so that any transfer to food doesn’t trigger safety concerns or change the composition of food in a way that isn’t within regulation.

In the Middle East, AP and IP regulations vary between countries – but generally speaking, the use of these packaging products is becoming more prevalent, in response to the demand for sustainable packaging and stringent food safety regulations. F&B businesses in the region have to seek out the correct regulatory guidance for the specific countries they’re operating in. For example:

  • In Saudi Arabia, standard regulations GSO 2231/2012, 839/1997, and 1863/2013 (which relate to the use of packaging and food contact materials) are mandatory. The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) is the governing body responsible for establishing laws related to food products, and ensuring compliance.
  • GSO 1863/2013 is mandatory in Oman, and the national standards body is the Directorate General for Specifications and Measurements (DGSM).
  • GSO 1863/2013 is also mandatory in Kuwait, and food packaging safety is governed by the Kuwait Public Authority for Industry, Kuwait Municipality, the General Customs Authority, and the Environmental Protection Authority.

And around the world, the use of AP and IP in other countries and regions is controlled by a range of government organisations. In the US these products come under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulatory framework; and relevant governing bodies in Africa include the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in Nigeria, and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

What are the benefits of active and intelligent packaging?

The benefits are huge. Firstly, AP and IP does what it says on the tin – improving and protecting the quality of food as it’s transported and stored, and right up until it arrives in the hands of the consumer.

But this creates other benefits for the F&B industry and wider society:

  • It reduces food waste, and increases sustainability by reducing the need for preservatives
  • It improves food safety. Research shows that IP can improve Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and Quality Analysis and Critical Control Points (QACCP)
  • It can improve customer experience, providing customers with up-to-date and relevant information about food quality
  • It can prevent theft and counterfeiting – through features like tamper-evident seals
  • It improves the ability of F&B businesses to predict repurchase rates, because IP can provide data on customer preferences and behaviour

IP and AP can be combined to create smart packaging. And the overall impact of smart packaging is longer shelf life, accurate product information, and more efficient food business operations from the moment the product is packaged.

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