In the era of digitization of science and technology, only by mastering key technologies and continuously following technological changes can we consolidate our competitiveness. Nowadays, packaging machinery combines data connection, unmanned operation, green packaging materials, and safety considerations, and enriches relevant intelligent data technology, so that it can continue to progress in the market.
The trend of smart packaging
With the rapid development of the food packaging industry, what trends will there be in food packaging in the future?
- Data connection: The size of the product is determined by scanning the code at the front end of the package. This also determines the postal code of the sender.
- Unmanned operation: In the past, human eyesight was used to classify and distinguish packaging, but now barcodes, electric eyes, or cameras are used to perform these functions of classification and identification.
- Green packaging materials: In the past, efficiency was emphasized, but now "recyclable and degradable" options need to be considered. Plastic-reducing materials have become the mainstream.
- Security considerations: Confidentiality of data and product data protection need to be maintained.
Food packaging has become an increasingly indispensable basic part of our daily lives, which is closely related to the trend of global urbanization. The reason is simple. When half of the world’s population lives in cities, and the cities cannot provide the land and environment needed for agriculture, the food is processed and packaged, and placed on supermarket shelves for people to buy. For the busy urbanite it is an increasingly convenient choice.
For food, good packaging can improve the cleanliness and freshness of food, and allow food manufacturers to effectively display their brands. In addition, good food packaging can prevent food from spoiling, extend the shelf life of food, and thereby reduce food waste. According to statistics, the world wastes 1.3 billion tons of food every year. Just reducing waste is enough to feed 1 billion hungry people around the world.
According to the information provided by the World Packaging Organization (WPO), the global packaging industry's turnover has exceeded 500 billion US dollars, of which food packaging is the mainstay. However, food packaging is also affected by local dietary preferences in different countries and regions. Japanese consumers strongly dislike incomplete packaging-even small creases that are insignificant may cause supermarket food to be left unattended. Fish and seafood are an important part of Japanese recipes, so they must be kept fresh and prevented from spoiling. A small bag of silicone or starch polymer is often placed in food packaging to absorb moisture. European consumers are just the opposite. They are skeptical of desiccants. Putting desiccants in the packaging may cause them to doubt the food itself.
Although regional preferences may cause differences in food packaging in different countries, we can still gain insight into several trends in the development of the food packaging industry.
Freshness comes first
People have high requirements for food packaging. Since food often requires long-distance transportation to be delivered from the place of production to the supermarket shelf, it is particularly important to ensure the freshness and hygiene of the food. It may take longer for food to go from the shelf to the shopping basket, and then appear on the table. Cutting-edge technology can help packaging ensure that the food is fresh and hygienic. The integration of composite materials with different characteristics provides ideal packaging for food. For example, the characteristics of the bottom material of the packaging are very different from the lid or packaging film.
Wear-resistant composite materials made of multiple materials are suitable for modified atmosphere packaging. This technology selects different protective gases to replace the air around the food according to different food types. For example, replacing oxygen with inert gases such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide can slow the growth of bacteria without using any additives. To ensure that the solution works, packaging materials must have good gas barrier properties. Otherwise, the protective gas will be lost quickly.
Hazardous substances are not limited to the food itself; they can also come from packaging materials. In 2010, researchers from the Zurich Food Safety Authority in Switzerland discovered that mineral oil residues in cardboard packaging would migrate to food. The root of this problem is that the ink used in newspaper printing enters the packaging through recycled paper. Occasionally, trace residues can also come from inks used in food packaging printing. These mineral oil residues can evaporate at room temperature and then be transferred to dry foods such as flour, rice, or corn flakes. Even when the food transport packaging contains recycled paper, there is a possibility of mineral oil migration. According to the World Health Organization Joint Committee of Experts on Food Additives and FAO, certain mineral oils may cause cancer.
In terms of food barrier packaging solutions, we have developed a variety of intrinsic barrier materials suitable for different packaging. For food packaging, they are a thin film with a thickness of only 10 to 15 microns, but they can effectively filter large-sized toxic mineral oil molecules while allowing smaller water molecules to flow unimpeded.
In China, the problem of ink contamination on food packaging has just begun to cause concern. Since most food packaging in China does not introduce safe and edible inks for printing. Food safety experts remind consumers to pay attention to whether there are barrier materials in the food packaging when choosing food. China food manufacturers have also begun to pay more and more attention to how food packaging can ensure safety based on satisfying the fast life of urban residents.
Mineral oil barrier material protects food:
Food packaging is often produced using recycled paper fibers. These recycled paper packaging materials may contain newspaper printing ink, which is the main source of harmful mineral oil residues in the cardboard. These mineral oil residues can evaporate at room temperature and then migrate to fat-containing dry foods, such as noodles.
Mineral oil residues may come from:
- The inside of the contaminated package body
- Contaminated outer packaging, such as corrugated board packaging used to support the product during transportation
- Contaminated packaging’s nearby, such as packaging on supermarket shelves or transport trucks
In addition to keeping food fresh, more and more consumers hope that packaging can be recycled. The Swedish carton manufacturer Tetra Pak conducted a survey of 6,000 consumers in 10 countries and found that recycled packaging is one of the public's first choices because it is considered more environmentally friendly.
Consumers and legislators are paying more and more attention to packaging issues, the main purpose of which is to encourage the efficient use of resources. This trend is particularly evident in Europe. Take the Netherlands as an example. The country levies a tax on packaging manufacturers based on the average carbon dioxide emissions of packaging materials-0.36-0.57 euros per kilogram of aluminum and 0.06 euros per kilogram of cardboard.
The market demand for biodegradable renewable materials is also increasing. For example, beverage boxes and food containers can be made of biodegradable plastics, and these plastics use a certain percentage of renewable raw materials. After use, the product can be processed and composted together with food residue.
In China, with the increasing awareness of environmental protection, recyclable paper food packaging is becoming more and more popular. According to statistics, paper packaging currently accounts for about 40% of China's packaging materials market share, and this proportion may be further expanded.
Some high-tech and new technologies are also being continuously introduced into the food packaging industry. The development of the Internet of Things has allowed the integration of sensors, chips, and printed electronic labels into the traditional packaging industry. In the future, "smart" or "active" packaging will reduce food waste. Experts around the world are working hard to find new ways to provide consumers with information on the perishability of food and prevent food from spoiling. These new systems will provide information on the current status of the product while using oxygen scavengers or special acids to extend the shelf life.
For business, the introduction of smart technology must first consider the cost issue. For some high-value-added foods, such as high-end health products, high-demand fresh-keeping foods, etc., the introduction of smart packaging is an attempt to further increase the added value and availability of products.