Packaging Innovations for Minimally Processed Meats
Consumer interest in fresher, closer to nature, and less processed foods is driving innovations in alternative processing techniques and flexible packaging, noted Hossein Daryaei, research scientist, Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH) at Session 042 “Packaging Innovations for Processed Meat, Poultry, and Seafood.” These processing techniques (e.g., high pressure processing) deliver high-quality foods with extended shelf life and improved nutritive value.
High pressure processing (HPP) of ready-to-eat meats in flexible packaging can extend shelf life to 60 days under refrigeration, said Daryaei. Products undergoing HPP treatment are compressed (about 15–20% at 600 MPa) during pressurization and regain their original volume upon decompression. Thus, packaging for HPP applications must withstand the volume change. Commonly used films include polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), and polylactate (PLA).
Daryaei reported that modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) has been combined with HPP to further increase food safety, extend shelf life, and meet consumer needs for natural products with more fresh-like characteristics. MAP typically uses a gas combination of nitrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2), which has bacteriostatic properties. In combination with HPP, CO2 may provide a synergistic effect on the inactivation of bacteria. Daryaei cautioned that MAP can only work with a controlled decompression rate. A fast decompression may result in packaging problems, including microdefects and delamination, due to the rapid volume expansion of gasses present within the film or food matrices.
In addition to MAP, studies have shown strong synergistic effects of antimicrobial packaging with HPP to control pathogens (e.g., Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella) in meat products, such as cooked ham.