Packages and packaging machinery serve different purposes for different industries. With the institution of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), packagers for food products must now pay more attention to the package they use as well as how the product gets into that package. For any new food product, each packager must consider at least three general areas when choosing packaging and machinery.
No matter how sustainable the package and packaging process, a food product that remains on the shelf for an extended period of time will go to waste. Packagers of food, like packagers of any product, must consider shelf appeal. The package and label for any food product can be thought of as an introduction to the consumer. In the most general sense, the goal of any packager is to catch the attention of new consumers and get those consumers to try the product. Once in the store, the package and the label provide the best opportunity to accomplish these goals. Uniquely shaped containers, informational labels or interactive 420 packaging all provide a means to spark the interest of potential new users. The appeal of the product and package, however, must be balanced with other factors.
Obviously, food products have a limited shelf life. But the right package and the right packaging machinery can help extend shelf life and fight against the breakdown of the product itself. For example, different packaging materials might help stave off heat or cold and the effect that the temperature differences can have on a food product. In fact, new packages are in the works that could actually control the temperature of the product while on the shelf, resulting in an extended useful life. Others continue to work on smart packaging, such as a container that will modify the expiration date on food products based on the environment in which the food is kept. Packaging machinery can help to protect the product by extending shelf life as well. Food packagers may often use a nitrogen purge system between a filling machine and a capping or sealing machine. Oxygen inside a food container assists in the breakdown of the product, which in the most general terms is the cause of a limited shelf life. Nitrogen purge systems will replace oxygen inside a container with nitrogen before the container is sealed. This replacement process extends the shelf life of the product because nitrogen will not have the same negative effects on the food as would oxygen. As an odorless, flavorless gas, nitrogen also preserves the taste, color and texture of many products as well.
Closely related to the protection of the product – actually the reason for the protection of the product – is the safety of the consumer. The FSMA referred to above contained major reforms to food safety laws, stemming from statistics showing that literally millions of people in the United States get sick from diseases stemming from food. By choosing packaging that won’t leach chemicals or speed the deterioration of the food, packagers are protecting both the product and the consumer. Of course, packages can also be hazardous to the consumers in other ways as well. Those producing food products need to think about how easy the package is to open, the stability of the container, the possibility of a broken package causing physical injury and other possible safety concerns. Bottom line, the safety of the consumer lends to the safety and reputation of the business.
Each food packager will have other items to consider when choosing a package and packaging machinery based on the individual project at hand. The convenience of the package for the consumer, the sizes of the containers to be used and the cost of the containers, lids, labels and packaging machines. However, the analysis should not stop until the choices made satisfy each of the factors set out above as well. Putting effort into the selection of the package and the equipment before ever producing a single finished product can save time, money and the business itself in the long run.