Packaging performs many complementary functions; protecting the product against external polluting agents, giving the product marketing value and providing the customer with information about ingredients or how to use the product.
In comparison to more conventional techniques, i.e. air or vacuum-packing, modified atmosphere packaging constitutes the best way to preserve food, without sacrificing the attractiveness of traditional packaging.
Food preservation technology has to take into account two factors of ever increasing importance:
- Extending product file
- Reducing the amount of additives used.
What is MAP?
Modified Atmosphere Packaging can satisfy both of these demands and is rapidly spreading throughout Europe and overseas. It involves modifying the atmosphere around the food product inside the wrapper.
This allows chemical, enzymatic or microbiological reactions to be controlled and therefore reduces or eliminates the main processes of deterioration in the product.
The combination of three independent elements is the basis of this technology:
- The packaging machine
- The wrapping material, which should be barrier type
- The gas or gas mixture
Products that can be wrapped in MAP
Depending on the type of product, the modified atmosphere technique uses special gases or mixtures of gases with different properties.
M.A.P. packaging can be used a variety of applications and covers a wide range of products: meat, sausages and salami etc., baked products, precooked foods, cheese, powdered milk, coffee, fruit juice, wine, crisps and savouries, nuts and dried fruit, etc.
The significant advantages of MAP packaging are numerous:
- The extension of the preservation period allows the economies of production scale to be exploited, inventory management and transport costs to be handled in the most profitable way, expansion into foreign markets, maximisation of revenue and minimisation of losses, etc
- The reliability of a package, designed in accordance with the strictest hygiene regulations which ensures maximum product quality without affecting its esthetical appearance
- Practical and cheap, from a technical point of view, however, this technique requires a packaging machine with special features.It means the level of additives and preservatives used can be constantly reduced.
Depending on the sort of product and the shape of the wrapper, the M.A.P. packaging procedures are of two basic types:
- "Washing"with gas. The packaging machine, vertical or horizontal, produces a continuous tube of wrapping material into which the gas is introduced. This gas replaces the air in the wrapper.
- Compensated vacuum-packing.
Important warnings and precautions
Foodstuff bacteriologically pure: It should be highlighted that M.A.Packaging will not have the same success if the foodstuff is not bacteriologically pure when wrapped. The effects of the gas in the product can be increased if certain hygiene and control conditions are adopted which allow the product to arrive at the wrapping stage with a very limited bacterial presence.
Sanitised working environment: depending on how long a product is required to last, the working environment and the production plants should be sanitised, while the air coming into the works and of course the ingredients themselves should be controlled.
Strict hygiene regulations should be imposed on workers who are in direct contact with production.
Extending preservation times requires the production of foodstuff which lends itself to gas treatment.