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Proactive packaging: new technologies allow packaging to be more than just a barrier.

Traditionally, packaging has been the last line of defense against oxygen, pests, pathogens and other enemies of food.

But some new packaging materials are going on the attack.

Innovations that have recently come on the market, or are awaiting commercialization, have the potential to offer proactive protection. These materials incorporate chemicals that actively fight or repel undesirable elements.

Here's a look at some of the more interesting developments that were unveiled in the second half of 1998.

Soaking up oxygen

Oxygen trapped inside a package is one of the leading causes of staling, especially for products rich in fats or carbohydrates. Gas flushing is the most common way to combat this, but oxygen-scavenging materials can be either a supplement or an alternative.

Oxygen-absorbing materials have been around for a while, mostly in the form of closure liners and in-package sachets. Closure liners have found a niche market in specialty beers and other products - for instance, the new Nescafe Espresso Roast instant coffee from Nestle.

But until recently, oxygen-scavenging technology for other types of packages mostly has been limited to sachets, which present two major problems. Consumers, especially children, have been known to eat them by accident; and many consumers find them aesthetically unappealing.

"In the United States, people don't want to see a foreign object in their container, even if they don't eat it," says Chip Cook, director of business development for Cryovac, Duncan, S.C. Cryovac had been the leading manufacturer of oxygen-scavenging sachets, but discontinued distribution on July 1 because of liability concerns.

In place of sachets, Cryovac has developed OS1000, a film with oxygen-absorbing properties built into the polymer. Cryovac is positioning OS1000 as a supplement to gas-flushed packages, to absorb the last bit of residual oxygen. It's intended as a coextruded layer for form/fill/seal films, flexible lidding and other films. OS1000's oxygen-scavenging capability is UV-activated; it must be exposed to ultraviolet light before it can begin absorbing oxygen. End users would have to add a Cryovac-supplied UV unit to their packaging line to expose the film just before it's incorporated into the package.

Another oxygen-absorbing material, unveiled in late October, is Amosorb 3000 from Amoco Chemicals. Amosorb 3000 is a copolymer that can serve as a clear layer in a bottle, jar or other rigid polyester container.

A converter would laminate or extrude Amosorb 3000 as a middle layer in a multi-layer structure. (Although it has received a GRAS rating from the FDA, it can't be used as the inner layer of a container, because the air in the empty container would exhaust its oxygen-absorbing potential before the product was added.) Amoco is touting Amosorb as a way to remove oxygen from three sources: within the package headspace, outside the package and from the other packaging materials.

Nothing bugs wintergreen

Methyl salicylate, otherwise known as oil of wintergreen, has been a flavoring and a muscle liniment for decades. Now Tenneco Packaging, Lake Forest, Ill., has found a new use for it: repelling insects.

Tenneco has incorporated methyl salicylate into RepelKote, a paperboard coating that can guard products in folding cartons from a variety of insect infestations. Laboratory and warehouse tests involving accelerated exposure to beetles and moths have shown no infestation in cartons treated with RepelKote after six weeks or more. It is odorless and undetectable by humans. Because it repels as opposed to destroying insects, they are unlikely to develop a resistance to it.

The EPA and FDA have approved RepelKote for direct contact with dry food. Tenneco is working on approval for food with significant fat or oil content.

Although RepelKote adds a premium to the cost of paperboard, Tenneco is hoping to persuade end users that it will be cheaper and more effective than more traditional countermeasures to infestation: warehouse fumigation and interior bags. That's what sold the only customer for RepelKote as of press time: AlfaPet, a St. Louis-based manufacturer of food and treats for birds and small animals.

Seed-based pet food can attract weevils, meal moths, grain beetles and other pests that lay eggs in the seeds, which will hatch after a consumer buys the package. AlfaPet uses fumigation, but that doesn't protect the product after it leaves the store, says CEO Ben Schulein Jr.: "If someone sits next to us on the shelf that doesn't fumigate as religiously as we do, there could be a problem." Using a gas-flushed bag inside the carton will keep any eggs in the product from hatching, but only until the consumer opens the bag. Schulein admits that RepelKote adds to AlfaPet's packaging costs, but says it's less expensive than an interior bag would be.

Code bars pathogens

As a general rule, the farther downstream in the processing and shipping process that microbial-detection measures can be inserted, the more effective they're likely to be. The Food Sentinel System incorporates pathogen detectors in packaging that, when activated, render the bar code unreadable.

The Food Sentinel System uses a bed of pathogen-sensitive materials through which product juices can circulate. If salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria or other harmful bacteria come in contact with these materials above mandated safety levels, a dark bar forms over the bar code, which will cause it to be rejected by scanners (as well as being visible to consumers). Commercial scanners can be programmed to read the type of contamination and send out a safety warning.

The system was developed by SIRA Technologies, a Pasadena, Calif.-based consortium of biotech companies formed to develop this pathogen-detection technology. It was announced at the Future-Pak conference last November in Chicago.
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Title Annotation:food processing industry
Author:Demetrakakes, Pan
Publication:Food Processing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 1999
Words:928
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