Safe Keeping
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Easy-to-open packaging and sensors help products maintain quality and integrity.
Even before September 11, consumers worried about food safety. They want to know that what they’re eating is safe, but they also want assurances the food is fresh and of the highest quality.
While tamper evidence is significant for food safety, it’s important to consumers that packaging is easy to open, says Josephine Lee, marketing associate in processed cheese and dairy at Chicago-based Alcan Packaging. The company developed and offers easy-open mechanisms such as easy-peel films, hermetically sealed tear tapes, perforated films and LaserTear, which scores the outside layer of a film with a laser to provide a controlled tear of the film at a precise location.
“An added benefit with high-barrier films is the laser scoring does not disturb or affect the barrier or hermetic properties, unlike a perforation,” Lee says. “To protect the consumer from potential health hazards, the barrier properties of a food-packaging film must be sufficient enough to protect the food product throughout its life on the store shelf and on to consumer consumption.”
Lee adds that ample barrier properties are necessary to ensure that the product’s integrity and freshness are maintained. “It also prevents mold and yeast growth as it relates to cheese and dairy products,” she says.
Alcan offers cutting-edge high-barrier films that guarantee a 6-month minimum shelf life, thereby optimizing freshness, quality and safety. The company counts Kraft Foods, the country’s largest cheesemaker, as one of its customers.
Responding to consumers’ demands for easy-to-open packaging, Curwood Inc., Oshkosh Wis., makes flexible-film packaging to answer consumers’ demands. “Consumers continue to want packaging made from flexible films that incorporate appropriate barrier levels to protect the product,” says Terri Cubitt, market manager. “Increasingly consumers are demanding packaging that is easy to open and that provides a reclosing feature to protect product freshness.”
Driven by convenience, product reclosability has become more important to consumers in recent years. “This change is significant in that now more and more consumers recognize the value of a package that delivers this reclose/storage ability, as evidenced by the market growth of convenience products in this type of packaging,” Cubitt says.
“Along with packaging with built-in convenience features, consumers want tamper-evident packaging. Features such as a tamper-evident tear-off ‘hood’ over a slider zipper or an easy-open package where the physical characteristics of the film surface will clearly alter once it has been opened — changing from a clear to an opaque appearance in the seal area — help assure them of product safety at time of purchase.”
Consumer demand in packaging for food safety has risen in recent years with frequent terrorism threats, says Gary Tantimonico, vice president at PDC International Corp., Norwalk, Conn. PDC International manufactures a full line of machinery for applying heat-shrinkable tamper-evident neckbands, commonly used on yogurt, margarine and ice cream containers.
“From our perspective, the trend in food packaging is to apply a combination full-sleeve label with tamper evidence,” Tantimonico says. “Our machine would perforate the label, which allows the consumer to remove the tamper-evident section.”
Keeping Your Cool
One of the newest innovations to help ensure integrity of the cold chain is Avery Dennison’s TT Sensor™, a time-temperature indicator label. The Strongsville, Ohio-based Industrial Products Division of Avery Dennison created this active label technology for the seafood market and recognizes valuable applications for dairy processors for milk gallons, yogurt cups and cheese packages.
The sensor label has a yellow dot that, if the product experiences a change in temperature, turns to pink, says Bill Hartman, business development director. “That color change is dependent upon both time and temperature, though the higher the temperature the more rapid the reaction takes place, or if it’s at a cooled temperature over a longer period of time, the reaction still takes place,” he says.
And the reaction is irreversible. “If a product has been temperature-abused and the sensor goes off and somebody tries to put it in a cold room, it won’t go back to its original yellow color,” Hartman says. “Theoretically, this could work for processors in the plant, retailers behind the dairy case and consumers when they get the product home.”
Avery Dennison’s label comes in two pieces, an indicator and an activator. “Other TT labels on the market need to be refrigerated before use, because essentially they’ve been activated at the time the label was manufactured. When these labels are manufactured you have to quick-chill them or they’ll go off. With our technology, a label doesn’t become active until it is actually laminated together, which is done as that finished label is applied to the product,” Hartman says.
Ideally, the labels should be applied after filling because at that point the product is vulnerable to temperature abuse, Hartman says.
“What the TT Sensor is intended to do is enable people to determine that the integrity of the cold chain has been maintained,” he says. “We think it will fill a need.”
Process Perfection
Safety concerns also include advances in equipment and cleaning processes that allow for easy, efficient equipment cleaning on production and packaging lines, and in sterilization methods to maximize safety while minimizing the impact such methods may have on the food itself.
“We need to be responsive to these developments in terms of how our material performs on the equipment, but also look further into the supporting role it plays in protecting the product through the demands of the disinfection process used, on through to consumption by the consumer,” says Cubitt.
Cranbury, N.J.-based E-Beam Services Inc. offers a temperature-controlled sterilization process that provides anti-microbial protection for foods containing heat-sensitive ingredients. The electron beam sterilization process offers a fast, thorough treatment in which products are removed from cold storage for a short period of time. No quarantine or swell time is required, and the product is immediately returned to cold storage.
Glen Rock, N.J.-based PBI-Dansensor America Inc. manufactures in-line and stand-alone non-destructive package leak detectors, the LeakMatic™ and LeakPointer™, which provide a water-free leak test of shipping cases and individual boxes containing cheese. The sensor utilizes trace CO2 gas to detect the leak and immediately activates an alarm.
“Consumers assume food they take out of a package and put in their mouth to eat is safe to ingest,” says Alcan’s Lee. “Therefore, it can be concluded that consumers demand safety that packaging must provide to ensure the health of the individual after consuming a product.”
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.