The Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP) focussed its recent conference on food packaging, an area of major concern for brand owners and converters in light of the recently promulgated FSSAI regulations for food safety and packaging. The conference, ‘Innovative Packaging Techniques for Food Products and its Safety Aspects,’ held three sessions addressing the Emerging Challenges of Safety in Food Packaging, Innovations in Food Packaging and Emerging Trends in Food Safety & Packaging Regulations. During the interactive sessions, experts outlined the industry’s efforts to keep pace with evolving global and local regulatory compliances and the constant need to innovate in food packaging keeping customer safety in mind.
Retort packaging for cooked or processed food
India is the second largest producer of fruit and vegetables in the world – producing 82 million tons of fruit and 162 million tons of vegetables. Mohammed Nadeem, chief executive officer of Paharpur 3P, highlighted India’s high level of food waste while leaving it to the participants to come up with the solutions. Nadeem pointed out that nearly half a million people die every year due to food-borne diseases in the country. The biological pathogens that are the biggest culprits causing these deaths are norovirus, Hepatitis A and salmonella, among many others.
The country is producing a large chunk of fruit and vegetables that are consumed across the world. The flip side to this is that we also waste nearly 40% of the food produced. At the same time, the cooking procedure must also be properly looked at while preparing a particular dish as certain unwanted particles vapourize into the food material at certain temperatures.
After the food is prepared or processed, many air-borne contaminants may affect it if a proper barrier layer is not provided in the container or pack. The solution to this is simple – good packaging. While the primary job of a package is to protect and preserve the contents, it depends on the product, the filling method, storage and the entire supply chain till the food is consumed.
Retort packaging is a process that uses heat and pressure to sterilize food. After being cooked, food is immediately packaged in a retort pouch without exposing it to air. After sealing, the package is subjected to temperatures as high as 141 degrees centigrade. Many food items packaged in retort pouches last as long as 12 months without the loss of any nutrients and without going stale.
Metal packaging in food
Metal packaging plays an important role in food preservation. A common expression used in metal packaging of food is canning. In developed countries, canned food has gained importance over the years. Particularly important where there are less cold chain facilities, the sustainability of metal packaging comes from its high possibility and value in the recycling chain. Whether made from steel or aluminum, metal packs fulfil all the aspects of sustainability. Metal packaging has made a remarkable comeback because of the new coatings that have been developed in the past couple of decades.
From the sustainability aspect, there are many options available such as glass, PET bottles or 6-layer laminates. Canned food, even in ambient temperature and in the absence of a cold chain, can last 24 months. According to Saket Bhatia, vice president of Hindustan Tin Works, most consumers do not know that metal packaging is environment friendly. “As far as cans, its a cradle to cradle recycling system. Once disposed steel is collected, it is melted once again and it becomes steel, which is fit to be reused as it doesn’t lose any of its inherent properties. Hence, steel is laterally recyclable and sustainable material.” As far as vegetables, more nutrients are preserved by canning than by mere refrigeration.
Innovations in barrier film technology
Anuj Sahni of Windmoeller and Hoelscher highlighted the importance of barrier films and laminates. He said that globally, one-third of food that is produced is wasted. If this waste is curbed, the world doesn’t need to produce more, and can meet its growing consumption demand.
Flexible packaging is key to food packaging, according to Sahni, as it is light in weight. Moving to barrier films needed for food packaging, he said that the permeability of carbon dioxide, water vapor and oxygen can degrade the contents. He added that in terms of permeability, data shows that nylon and EVOH possess some of the best barrier properties in flexible packaging laminates.
Designing a barrier film efficiently keeping in mind all the aspects of the packaged material, it can translate to better shelf life, less use of preservatives with safer storage and logistics. If one compares a non-barrier PE film or laminate to one containing a nylon or EVOH layer, the shelf life of food increases considerably. Another advantage of flexible laminates is that they can be engineered to the last micron. W&H believes that in the coming years, innovation and new applications will drive the Indian food and food packaging industry.