By Isaac Fletcher, contributing writer, Food Online
Despite greater production costs, high-barrier packaging has become an integral part of the food industry due to its ability to protect against oxygen and contaminants. However, there is still work needed to overcome challenges
As the use of plastics in packaging continues to grow, so too does the concern over the ability of plastic to protect food products from degradative effects. Due to these concerns, there has been an increased need for packaging materials that provide improved protection for foods. Driven by this demand, various barrier-packaging technologies have found their way into the market, and food producers are putting them to use to better preserve food and extend product shelf life. Extended shelf life afforded through high-barrier packaging has also allowed food producers to reduce the use of preservatives.
The Impact Of Permeation On Shelf Life And Packaging
Consumer trends have also played a role in the popularity growth of high-barrier packaging, as lifestyle preferences push more traditional packaging formats, such as rigid packages, to the wayside. With fast-paced lifestyles, consumers are demanding more food products that offer convenience, which tend to make use of trays and stand-up pouches rather than more traditional packaging. Corresponding with consumer preference, many retailers are expanding the selection of packaged goods and are increasingly interested in products with extended shelf life, further spurring the demand for high-barrier packaging.
Heat-resistant retort pouches are produced with laminated plastic — or foil if they do not need to be microwaved — and are filled, heat-sealed, and sterilized by pressure cooking. The result is heat-treated, fully-cooked food that is protected from microorganisms with an ambient shelf life similar to canned foods. Stand-up pouches have also gained popularity among producers due to their lighter weight and lower material cost.
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However, with a susceptibility to degradation, barrier packaging comes with drawbacks. Some materials used, such as Ethylene Vinyl Alcohol (EVOH) copolymer, are water sensitive, as they absorb moisture and lose barrier integrity against oxygen and carbon dioxide. Issues also arise when working toward packaging-to-packaging recycling due to multiple layers containing more than one type of plastic. With growing pressure on brands and retailers to decrease the environmental impact of packaging, some companies are looking toward renewable cellulose-based barrier films for their high-barrier packaging needs.