How to extend the shelf life of foodstuffs

The advantages of modified atmosphere packaging
Food & Pharma
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11 May 2020

Selecting and designing suitable packaging for a food product is not an easy task, even more so because the quality and look and feel of the packaging have a significant impact on the success of the product. One of the most important parameters regarding quality is of course the shelf life. After all, a longer shelf life is not only advantageous for the manufacturer, but also for the customer…

A very effective way to extend the shelf life of food products is in the use of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). The use of this technique implies that the atmospheric air in the packaging is replaced by a specific gas or gas mixture. Studies show that the shelf life of foodstuffs with modified atmosphere packaging is up to four times longer compared to foodstuff products packed in air.

“MAP development already started back in the 80s”, Andy Augustus, Market Manager Food & Pharma NEC at Air Liquide explains. “Since then, Air Liquide has gone to great lengths to further refine and optimize this technology”.

Why using MAP?

MAP significantly extends the shelf life of foodstuffs and makes sure the presentation remains attractive. It also helps to preserve the colour, flavour and nutritional attributes of the foodstuffs. This is achieved by slowing down the products’ microbial, enzymatic and physical deterioration.

Furthermore, MAP eliminates the need for chemical preservatives and lowers food waste. The extended shelf life – up to 4 times longer when compared to traditional methods – brings important new opportunities, such as a reduction in logistics costs (storage and deliveries), production costs (optimisation of production schedules) and the ability to enlarge the distribution area, as longer transportation times are no longer an obstacle.

MAP’s wide application area

Most food products that are susceptible to degradation when exposed to air benefit from MAP, such as:

  • meat and poultry products
  • ready meals (pizzas, quiches, cooked meals, sandwiches)
  • dairy products (sliced and grated cheese products, milk powder)
  • bakery products (bread, pastries, cookies, fresh pasta)
  • dry products (nuts, coffee, instant mashed potatoes)
  • fresh fruits & vegetables (lettuce leaves, grated carrot, fruit salads)
  • seafood (fish fillets and whole fish, processed seafood products)

MAP is suitable for all package sizes, so it can be used with bulk packaging as well as with portion units packaging.

Commonly used MAP gases

“The gaseous atmosphere that is used in MAP consists either of a single gas (N2, CO2, O2 or Ar) or a gas mixture”, Augustus continues. “Depending on the product type, the quality of the packaging materials, the storage temperature and the main objectives of the manufacturer the best solution can be determined. This process might not always be as straightforward as it looks. For instance, cheese requires a different gas mixture whether it is grated, sliced or in blocks.”

“Carbon dioxide is an obvious candidate for MAP, as it limits the growth of bacteria and slows down the development of moulds. In some cases, it’s advisable to combine carbon dioxide with nitrogen, as this prevents the package from collapsing when the carbon dioxide is resolved in water or fats.”

“Nitrogen is used extensively for MAP. It replaces the oxygen in the package and therefore prevents oxidative reactions. Furthermore, it limits the growth of aerobic bacteria and brings mechanical protection for fragile products. Argon has similar benefits, but it slows down the respiration rate of fresh vegetables to a larger extent than nitrogen, which has a positive impact on their shelf life.”

“Oxygen is a less obvious choice for MAP, but it nevertheless brings important benefits in some cases. Oxygen is for instance ideal for maintaining the bright colour of red meat, which is an important decision factor in the purchasing process. To prevent microbial spoilage and oxidation, oxygen must be used in combination with carbon dioxide. Oxygen is also essential for the respiration of fresh fruits and vegetables, and it can be used to prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria in fish products.”

Air Liquide’s added value

“Over the years, Air Liquide has been building a database which contains more than 1.500 client reference cases with MAP. This enables us to steer our customers into the right direction. Still, it is advisable to run MAP trials with different gas mixtures, in parallel with quality and microbial analyses, in order to determine the best combination.”

“We offer tailored solutions and provide technical knowledge for food processors to help them with packaging technology and materials, production capacity, size and shape of the product, desired product’s appearance, expected shelf life and logistics constraints. Thanks to our international and local food experts, we can answer any possible question related to MAP technology. Furthermore, we offer process services including trials, product package atmosphere analysis and audits of packaging installations”, Augustus concludes.

Want to find out how MAP can improve your business? Contact our expert Andy Augustus for more information.

Searching for a way to increase the shelf life of food while at the same time reducing  the use of additives? Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) may be your answer! Find out now and enjoy a free audit.

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