What are the Major Food Packaging Materials?
When we visit the supermarket and buy items such as cookies, canned soups, juices, and other food and beverages, we come into contact with different forms of food packaging. For example, milk is generally packaged in glass or plastic. The item can be packaged in containers such as boxes in shelf-stable versions. Food packaging is robust, durable, and safe and plays a vital role in safety, convenience, effectiveness, and consumer information. It also blocks light and protects the color and nutrients in food. It also ensures quality consistency throughout a food product’s shelf life.
The packaging options available to food and beverage manufacturers have evolved to meet consumer needs and improve production efficiency. Milk is an excellent illustration of how food and beverage packaging has become. In the 1950s, milk could be brought into homes in glass containers. Nowadays, receiving an unexpected visit from a milkman is not the norm, and the glass packaging has been changed to HDPE material. The milk is also packaged in paper and plastic cartons, providing an extended shelf life. To understand how different types of packaging ensure high quality and durability, we will look at the primary types of packaging materials.
Paper may be the oldest type of food packaging, dating back to the first or even second century BC when it was used by the Chinese to wrap their food products. Over the next 1500 years, everything from flax and bark to linen cloth, cellulose, and wood pulp was used. During this time, the first commercially produced cardboard was created to replace the wooden boxes used in product packaging. The cardboard container was developed in the 1870s and became known for cereal boxes.
Paper is a flexible packaging material. Its various uses range from food wrapping paper to paperboard used for frozen and fast foods products to corrugated containers such as pizza boxes. The paper is absorbent, has outstanding strength-to-weight properties, and is cost-effective, meaning you get the best value for money.
Paper is usually treated with materials such as varnishes, waxes, and resins to give it protective and valuable properties. For example, glassine is a greaseproof paper used as a liner in fast and baked foods. Paper is also made from renewable resources, which can be grown again and never run out. When recycling paper for food packaging, most of it is recycled into non-food packaging because of mineral oils and other substances that could be absorbed into food products.
Glass packaging material has been used since 7700 BC. and was first invented by the early Egyptians. Nicolas Appert began using glass to preserve food in the 1800s. He used glass bottles with cork stoppers secured with wire to store and heat food to keep it fresh. Glass is a good barrier against microorganisms and gases. It can be reused easily. glass is fully recyclable with no loss of quality or purity compared to other packaging alternatives. It requires a significant amount of energy to be recycled. Why isn’t glass used more often? Most likely because it is fragile and heavy, which leads to high shipping costs. Glass containers were once a fantastic starting point for food preservation before metal cans were replaced due to their ability to be processed faster and last longer in storage.
Metal packaging was also a relic of the past when boxes and cups were made of gold and silver. Other alloys and more vital metals were created over time; steel, iron, and tin became popular. Metal canisters were developed around the 1760s but were not widely appreciated due to the toxic materials used. It wasn’t until the 1800s that containers began to gain popularity. Appert first used them to store food in tin containers. As with glass, metals have excellent barrier properties, resist heat, and can be heated and sealed to ensure sterilization. Aluminum is used for soft drinks and foil, and the tin plate is used for food processing and aerosol containers. Most of the aluminum and steel food packaging can be recycled. Metals are recyclable; however, they may require further processing, such as aluminum foil holes or sorting and separating into laminated or metalized film.
Compared to the other materials used for packaging, plastic seems to be the oldest in terms of the time it was discovered. However, it is not deficient in its application and security. It is the most versatile and widely used material due to its lightness, low cost, and heat resistance. Plastics are widely used in the food industry as styrene, used in cups, cans, and trays. Plastic bottles are mostly made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and have entered the food industry for the past 50 years. Plastics are also used to protect against gases, moisture, and other chemicals. Certain plastics are heat sealed and can be used to create high temperatures in the hot fill process. Food products such as jams, sauces, dips and sauces, and beverages such as isotonic, juices, and other drinks have a hot filling.
Plastics offer great benefits, just like other materials. However, how is their recycling performance? Most plastics are recyclable; however, they require a lot of energy. There could be concerns about the contamination of plastics in recycling. However, the FDA provides guidelines and protocols to track the situation.
Let’s say you’ve learned some of the ways food packaging can play a significant role in your food’s nutritional quality and safety the next time you’re at the market. In this case, you will be able to take that jug of milk or that can of soup, knowing that the packaging will give you the highest quality and safest product. When you’re done, dispose of it properly and recycle the container!