Packaging materials extend the shelf-life of food

If it’s still edible, it doesn’t belong in the bin

EU figures have shown that the share of food losses and waste is highest in the Netherlands. WWF Germany says that annual per-capita losses are nearly 600 kg. In Belgium this figure is lower, but still fairly high – 400 kg – and in Cyprus it is over 300 kg. Germany is number 18 in this ranking.

Active packaging for an extended shelf-life
The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (Fraunhofer IVV) recently studied the potential benefit of active packaging systems for perishable food, using the examples of cooked ham and mushrooms. Fresh for another four days. Mushrooms sealed in plastic became discolored after only a very short period of time. Not only is this unsightly, but it also discourages customers from purchasing such products. The result – food is thrown away unnecessarily, even though it is still perfectly edible. The research showed that if the packaging has moisture control and contains table salt, it is possible to prevent condensation and therefore changes in quality. Oxygen absorbers in ham packaging delay discoloring of the product, so that the fresh pink of the ham does not turn into a dull grey. According to the study, oxygen absorption in active packaging delays visible changes in product quality by as much as four days.

Shops order more than they sell
“Food losses in the food retail trade have a negative effect on the energy balance,” says Diane Ahrens from the Deggendorf Technical College. Her department has developed an app that suggests the optimum order quantity upon entering the currently remaining quantity, taking account of order and delivery intervals and container sizes. The idea is to prevent food from becoming spoilt and remaining unsold. The test runs at five retail outlets have apparently been positive. Thanks to the app, losses in mushrooms were reduced from 8.5 to 5.3%. The college says that if this figure is projected to the entire German retail sector, the app could help to reduce food losses in fresh produce by nearly 1.7 million kilograms a year.

Tangible freshness with a special seal
The largest proportion of losses – nearly 40% – is caused by consumers. Many customers see the sell-by date on the packaging as the only criterion to decide whether food should be eaten or thrown away. However, many products are still fit for human consumption after the sell-by date – a fact which was highlighted in an info brochure by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture last year. In this brochure the Ministry says expressly – a sell-by date is not a use-by date.

But how is the consumer supposed to know whether a product is still fresh? One innovative product idea has recently been presented by a designer from the UK. Her Bump Mark is a freshness label that provides tactile information whether food is still edible or whether it has gone off. This is how it works – the uppermost layer of the package is a coat of gelatin. Below, there is a sheet of corrugated plastic which covers the actual sealing film. Being protein-based, the gelatin has a similar decay period as the packaged product – in this instance, meat, milk or cheese. Once the gelatin begins to crumble, then this can be felt through the uppermost layer. The inventor, Solveiga Pakštaitė, recently received the James Dyson Design Award for this smart idea. The market launch is still pending.

This article was first published in

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