New Packaging Innovation to reduce food waste

By Sarah Tyas, Senior Packaging Consultant and Health & Beauty Industry Expert at iDi Pac Ltd

In UK we waste close to a fifth of all foodstuffs bought into our households (2016 WRAP food waste report), due to “missed ‘use by’ dates”, confusion with ‘best before’ dates, or lack of small size portion pack availability, which results in leftover product in stored in less than optimum packaging and environments.
Interestingly, only 23% of the 7 million tonnes of food wasted annually is categorised as ‘unavoidable’. The remaining 5.4 million tonnes (77%) categorised as ‘avoidable’, comprising of entirely edible food that has either perished or the household has not used, the bulk of food waste must be tackled by eliminating ‘avoidable’ categories of food waste.
Packaging waste vs. food waste
The widespread media hype around government led packaging waste initiatives such as the UK single-use plastic bag charge or single-use Coffee Cups and so forth has led the population to consider packaging waste as a major environmental issue. As a result, industry efforts to reduce packaging waste; light weighting of components, removal of packaging layers, down-gauging barrier films have, in many cases, taken priority over the development of improved performance packaging solutions to ensure the effective protection and preservation of the food it contains.
In reality food waste constitutes a much larger issue than packaging waste, as food production often requires 10x times the resources (water, energy, etc.) to make and distribute food than the packaging that protects it1.
There have been some significant reductions to food waste produced during the production and packing stages of food production, the use and acceptance of “ugly” veg championed by celebrity chefs, however waste reduction methods require more thorough implementation throughout the product life cycle.
At iDi Pac we believe that effectively designed packaging solutions, some of which controversially require an increase in packaging weight or cost, can go a long way to reducing food waste figures by improving the protection and preservation of food products throughout the supply chain and product life cycle.
Proven packaging preservation solutions such as modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and use of speciality barrier films can be seen on the supermarket shelf, however their benefits are limited to supply chain and distribution stages of a product life cycle as their preservation properties are lost completely, or significantly compromised on initial pack opening.
Is In-Pack Humidity Regulation the answer?
Industrial level humidity regulation is utilised throughout food manufacturing to optimise the manufacturing environment, improve processing and filling efficiencies and reduce micro-organism growth, however the extension of these benefits to the ‘in-pack’ environment is often overlooked by manufacturers.
Rather than simply measuring humidity levels via indicator cards or attempting to eliminate all moisture e.g. desiccants, humidity regulation actively stabilises the moisture level of an environment within a pre-specified window. By releasing and absorbing moisture, equilibrium of relative humidity (ERH) can be achieved. At this point, moisture transfer between the product and the packaged environment is prevented, eliminating adverse product quality issues, and maintaining desired properties such as texture, taste, and ‘mouthfeel’. Similarly, goods such as flour and sugar can be maintained at a humidity level required to maintain a good flow dynamic, without the requirement for anti-caking agents. In-pack humidity regulation can be introduced through sachets, either loose in pack or built into other packaging components, or via material innovation to incorporate into thin films and vac form trays.
Humidity regulators have been developed to maintain a pre-set humidity range, anywhere between 30-80%, largely independent of temperature and other environmental variables. Specification of humidity regulation can be uniquely developed to suit your specific product requirements, as an example the utilisation of differing specifications of humidity regulators in-pack allowing for precise control to ensure a set time delay of product freshness in ‘Eat one, Keep one’ style salad twin packs.
In-pack humidity regulators work constantly to maintain and stabilise the package environment in response to external conditions, providing protection against external fluctuation and extremes for sensitive foodstuffs; factors for fresh fruit and vegetables are known to cause premature product degradation. Early tests by conducted by manufacturers of a patented bio-compatible food-safe dynamic humidity stabiliser have shown potential of in-pack solutions to double the lifespan of a lettuce. In alternative food type applications, this level of preservation provided by packaging alone may allow manufacturers opportunities to reduce levels of preservatives required in their product recipes….
The benefits of humidity regulation are many and varied for product manufacturers and customers alike. Environmental control provides extended life, longer sell by dates in store, and subsequent consumer waste reduction. Regulation of product environment via in-pack humidity control preserves the unique quality requirements required by a product. Whether this is a desired taste or texture, the avoidance of a ‘soggy or ‘stale’ product maintains quality and further meets customers required quality expectations.
What’s next?
Speak to us at iDi Pac today (tellmemore@idipac.com). We can work with you to develop and implement innovative packaging solutions for your product range, improve your product lifespan, and reduce food waste.

1(INCPEN – Evidence to House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee – Food waste in England inquiry)


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