Fresher for longer - Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and its role in reducing waste

Effective packaging for food and drink often incorporates Modified Atmosphere Packaging
Food & Pharma
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3 July 2019

Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) has a considerable role to play in reducing food waste however the environmental implications of packaging also need to be considered by food producers and consumers.

`Food packaging has three major roles. It protects food from outside influences and damage, it wraps and contains the food, and is a vehicle to provide information about ingredients and nutrition. Of secondary but increasing importance are the issues of convenience, traceability and providing an indication of whether the food has been tampered with.1 These requirements must be achieved cost-effectively, balancing the needs of industry and consumers while maintaining food safety and minimizing negative environmental impact.
Plastics have long been central to keeping food fresher for longer. It is the way we use this material that is leading to a crisis of waste and pollution. However knee-jerk removal of single-use plastics from all packaging could be problematic without careful thought about all the consequences, and a considered evaluation of the upsides and downsides.

Effective packaging for food and drink often incorporates Modified Atmosphere Packaging. This utilises gases naturally present in the air to prevent microbial, enzymatic and physical deterioration and maintain the initial taste and quality of a food product.
Put simply, MAP helps preserve foods nutritional and aesthetic properties and can dramatically improve shelf life. With the increasing demand for natural and healthy eating products the ability to preserve without artificial additives and preservatives is a huge positive.

Food producers reduce waste and make significant cost savings by minimizing returns, all while making big strides to meet the nutritional demands of increasingly knowledgeable consumers.” says Dominique Bonnot, Food Market Director at Air Liquide.
Air Liquide, specialists in providing MAP solutions to food producers in the UK, is already working closely with clients to meet these new challenges, collaborating with packaging material companies and coming up with innovative solutions to address environmental, operational and commercial drivers.

Finding the sweet spot

The trick here is to find the sweet spot between ridding the world of single-use plastic, and reducing food waste. As new packaging methods come onstream the solution will evolve. Some demanding formats are currently difficult to replace with a non-plastic alternative, and new forms of packaging are constantly under development. Plant-derived material can’t yet fully fill the gaping hole which will be left by removing single-use plastic.
Packaging companies such as SPP are committed to meeting the challenge. “Plastics are used for a reason, and they will continue to be vital for a number of applications. However the serious environmental impact they cause cannot be ignored by the industry, and in reality recycling of light-weight flexible plastic wraps has some serious viability challenges.” says Gareth Reeves, Sustainable Packaging Specialist at SPP.

It is however critical that food producers consider the full requirements of their products when making a transition away from plastic, and it is therefore very important to work with a packaging partner with specialist experience in alternative materials.

We have developed 2humus®, a range of high performance plant-based home compostable packaging films, to replace conventional plastics whilst maintaining vital performance levels. It does behave differently to conventional plastics, but in an increasingly wide range of food applications a move to home compostable alternatives does not need to be detrimental to performance levels or critical shelf-life.
For many extended shelf-life products the use of MAP, alongside with the continuing development of plant-based flexible packaging, can help make this transition viable without increasing the likelihood of food waste.”

Is a New Utopia in reach?

We can see positive action, not just words been spoken, by all elements of society, including food producers and packaging companies. Not meeting the challenge has huge implications and a cohesive strategy is required. We all have a part to play and Air Liquide are collaborating to help food producers select optimised packaging solutions and MAP gases that address sustainability issues in a holistic way

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1 - Source: Food Packaging? Roles, Materials, and Environmental Issues. Journal of Food Science. May 2007 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5850700_Food_PackagingRoles_Mat...

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