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?
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):
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.
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:
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:
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).
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:
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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