What Is Active Packaging?

Active packaging
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Active packaging is the incorporation of particular components into a packaging system that release or absorb substances  from the packaged food into the surrounding environment. The intention is to extend shelf-life and preserve quality, to maintain food safety and ensure the sensory properties of the food remain optimal. It is highly important and has become a key element of many packaging systems. 

I’m sure we are all familiar with packaging. It is the technology for protecting products which are stored, for sale, for distribution and then their eventual use.

Active packaging often involves placing compounds into different formats such as labels, packaging film, labels and coatings. The active compounds move from the package by diffusion, evaporation or remain fixed through chemical immobilization.

A number of actives are incorporated directly into the packaging by either mixing these materials in with the polymer and then extruding the packaging or by coating onto a polymeric base material. Typical synthetic polymers include  low‐density polyethylene [LDPE] or polypropylene because of their superior mechanical performance (Gaikwad et al., 2020).

Oxygen Scavengers

One of the most common active packaging systems involves oxygen scavengers. These function using wide range of materials usually iron based powders and chemicals, mixtures of metal with acids, metal catalysts such as palladium and platinum, enzymes and yeasts (usually immobilised), photosensitized dyes and metals with ascorbic acid or ascorbates.

Oxygen scavengers are often used in combination with barrier packaging or other technologies to create a vacuum or low oxygen environment. The foods that benefit most are those with porous structures.

The oxygen scavengers along with oxygen absorbers are built into the packaging structure or added as sachets in the headspace. Reducing oxygen reduces oxidation and stops microbial growth (Suppakul et al., 2003). 

In some instances the oxygen scavenger is incorporated into polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles to protect wine, tomato sauce, orange juice and virgin olive oil (Mentana et al., 2009). In some cases foods can use reduced levels of preservatives if an active oxygen scavenger is used. 

Most foods, especially ready-to-eat foods and bakery products benefit from these types of functional packages. They include bread, pancakes and tortillas (Antunez et al., 2012), cooked rice, pastas, cheese, dried meats especially beef jerky, fish, coffee, snack foods and various beverages.

Ethylene Scavengers

These are used to restrict or delay ripening of mainly fruits, vegetables and horticultural products. These are based mostly on potassium permanganate (KMnO4) (Álvarez‐Hernández et al., 2019), activated carbon and activated clays and zeolites. Other materials introduce 1‐methyl cyclopropene (1‐MCP)  which disrupts the production of ethylene.

Ethanol Emitters

These are alcohol sprays or encapsulated ethanol. These are also commonly used in cakes, fish and bakery products.

Active Packaging Systems

There are two basic systems. Ones that retain or eliminate food compounds include those that maintain humidity or even reduce it. There are also systems for removing gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide as well as bad odours.

The other main system will increase the carbon dioxide content as well as various aromas. There are also systems for releasing antioxidants, antimicrobials and various functional compounds.

You might also find other active systems such as self-heating and self-cooling systems. 

 For the food packager, active packaging is a relatively new system with many preservation benefits. 

References

Álvarez‐Hernández, M.Martínez‐Hernández, G.Avalos‐Belmontes, F.Castillo‐Campohermoso, M.Contreras‐Esquivel, J., & Artés‐Hernández, F. (2019). Potassium permanganate‐based ethylene scavengers for fresh horticultural produce as an active packagingFood Engineering Reviews11, pp. 159183. (Article

Gaikwad, K.Singh, S., & Negi, Y. (2020). Ethylene scavengers for active packaging of fresh food produceEnvironmental Chemistry Letters18, pp. 269284. (Article)

Mentana, A.Pati, S.La Notte, E.Del Nobile, M.A. (2009)Chemical changes in Apulia table wines as affected by plastic packagesLWT–Food Sci Technol 42: pp. 13606.

Suppakul, P.Miltz, J.Sonneveld, K.Bigger, S.W. (2003)Active packaging technologies with an emphasis on antimicrobial packaging and its applicationsJ Food Sci 68(2) pp. 40820.

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