FOOD PACKING MACHINES – latest developments
Food packaging machines provide an efficient and cost-effective way of transporting goods, and of protecting them from the environment. As a result, food can be transported and stored without sustaining damage and contamination, and they last longer.
Food packaging requirements cover a range of very different food products, from fresh produce – meat, fruit, vegetables and more – to dairy, bakery and an evolving array of processed and prepared foods. Food packaging machinery needs to deal with food in many forms – powders, granules, liquids, solids. There is no shortage of challenges, but plenty of opportunities for exceptional machine design.
Producers and packers increasingly need to be aware that all techniques used to package and protect come with issues to consider, such as material and energy consumption, and pollution and environmental impact.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN FUNCTIONS OF A FOOD PACKING MACHINE?
Food packaging needs to meet four basic criteria.
Product identification: Customers need to be able to identify, variety, size, ingredients, quantity, and portion type of product they are buying quickly.
Product protection: Food products need to arrive at point of sale in a way that meets industry-specific standards and protects the food from the environment, including dirt, insects, dampness and breakage.
Convenience: Food packaging also needs to meet logistical needs. Transportation and storage are both major considerations in food packaging. Products need to be easily stackable and robust, while also allowing for convenience of consumption.
Product promotion and brand visibility: Packaging needs to stand out amongst the other products on the shelf and enhance the visual image of the brand; it needs to work as a passive salesman, embedding itself in the minds of the customers.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF FOOD PACKAGING MACHINES
A vast proportion of the food we see on shop shelves is vacuum-packed and shrink wrapped. These two techniques are highly flexible and fulfil many of the functions required in the is sector.
VACUUM PACKAGING MACHINES
Vacuum packaging works by completely eliminating oxygen in the product and package, thus suppressing the proliferation of any aerobic organisms. In this air-free environment, foods remain fresher for longer.
Vacuum storage is particularly well suited to freezer or cold-display products since it considerably extends their lifespan. Perishable products such as meat, fish, cheese, fruit salads also benefit from vacuum packaging since it locks in their aromas, flavours, and nutritional value.
Vacuum packaging machines range from small and compact, best suited to small companies or even large households, to industrial level equipment capable of handling demanding workloads. Larger machines can also incorporate label printing and automated moving facilities offering extremely high operating speeds.
SHRINK WRAP MACHINES
How shrink wrap machines work
A wrap made up of polymer plastic film is applied to the product, which then passes through a heat tunnel on a conveyor causing it to shrink tightly conforming to the product being wrapped.
WHY SHRINK WRAP PACKAGING IS SO IMPORTANT IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY
Shrink wrap machines preserve freshness - By preventing oxygen from reaching the food, shrink wrapping extends shelf life and locks in freshness and flavour. Increasing longevity reduces delivery costs and environmental impact thanks to a lower need for regular deliveries.
Product aesthetics - Since it uses a clear film, shrink wrap is ideal for packaging fruit and veg as it allows the customer to evaluate the quality and freshness of the product before purchasing. Also, since shrink wrap is printable, it can be branded allowing companies to advertise and display important product information.
Increase product protection - By sealing the product away from oxygen and the atmosphere, shrink wrap prevents it from spoiling and increases longevity both during transportation and at point of sale display.
Shrink wrap offers greater storage capacity - Boxes and other bulky containers can occupy more space than necessary. Since shrink wrap adheres closely to the form of the actual product it keeps storage requirements to a minimum.
OTHER TYPES OF FOOD PACKAGING
Beyond vacuum packs and shrink wrap, packaging techniques in common use include canning, bottling, pouch filling, trays, cartons and bagging. Each technique can be adapted for the specific requirements of different foods, and a stroll around the shelves of any large supermarket will give a clear view of the diversity of approaches being embraced by the food industry.
There is also significant activity in packing individual units together for ease of transportation, handling and, in some outlets, display to the consumer. These include boxing, palletising and wrapping.
WHAT'S NEW IN FOOD PACKAGING?
As industry insiders are well aware, there's now a huge focus on sustainability. The primary subject for concern is materials, and many organisations and businesses are working hard to minimise the use of plastics and the development of recyclable or reusable materials including cartons.
Mainstream supermarket tests have included programmes where consumers refill their own containers, and the trend is set to continue. In the same spirit the launch of the Loop™ initiative in Europe and the USA delivers food in customised packaging which is collected for reuse rather than recycling.
At the same time energy consumption in the production of packaging material is coming under the spotlight. Glass may be more easily recyclable than plastic, but the effect on global warming of glass production and the energy needed to transport such heavy material counterbalances many, if not all, the advantages.
The outlook does however include increasing use of lightweight bottles and a reduction in the thickness of the film used in multipacks. In the snacks business, at least one major producer is looking at compaction technology (ie getting the same volume of potato crisps into a reduced pack size).
Increasingly the mindset for packaging is going to involve the principles of recyclability, biodegradability and compostability. All of which adds up to significant challenges for the food packaging industry, but also to a rich seam of opportunities.
FOOD PACKAGING MACHINES AT THE PPMA TOTAL SHOW 2019
To catch up with all that's happening in food packaging, make sure you visit the PPMA Total Show 2019. You'll meet a wide range of exhibitors with a selection of food packaging machines, including vacuum wrapping and shrink wrapping, and much more. See who is exhibiting here.