Active or intelligent packaging?

Tuesday, 03 May, 2005

Food can only reach households in top quality if stored in the right packaging. Active wrappers protect sensitive products from light, air and mould, and intelligent packaging indicates whether the food is still as fresh as it should be.

To arrive fresh on the consumer's table, foodstuffs need packaging designed for their specific needs. Heat, light, air, bacteria and fungi cause sensitive products to perish. At the recent European Conference on Fresh Food Packaging, scientists presented the state of the art in packaging.

"Consumers want high-quality food with as few preservatives as possible," reports Thomas Wanner of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV. Packaging is becoming more transparent, too. Consumers will not accept coloured wrappers that conceal the product. Nor do they want separate elements such as small sachets containing oxygen scavengers. Packaging producers also have to cater for changes in the consumers' way of life. Surveys show there is a growing number of one-person households, many families only shop once a week, and ready-to-serve meals are popular. Customers appreciate fully recyclable environment-friendly packaging, but will only spend a few extra cents to get reusable wrappers.

Not everyone knows the difference between active and intelligent packaging. In broad terms, you could say: active films must ensure that products remain in top condition throughout the delivery chain - from the food processing and packaging, logistics and retail companies to the end user.

Intelligent materials tell the consumer or retailer about the product's freshness or perishability. But what use is the best packaging if the cooling chain is interrupted during transportation? Intelligent packs have freshness indicators to show if the product is still fresh. Time-temperature indicators, for instance, show if the cooling chain was interrupted. And leakage indicators change their colour if the packaging has been opened or damaged.

Such aspects and related ones are currently investigated and solved within the EU project ACOSIC. Towards the end of this year, its research and industrial partners will offer the packaging industry low cost and low environmental impact versions of advanced packaging.

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