Food packaging

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Automated palletizer of bread with industrial robots at a bakery in Germany

Food packaging is the enclosing of food to protect it from damage, contamination, spoilage, pest attacks, and tampering, during transport, storage, and retail sale. The package is often labeled with information such as amount of the contents, ingredients, nutritional content, cooking instructions (if relevant), and shelf life. The package needs to be designed and selected in such a manner that there are no adverse interactions between it and the food. Packaging types include bags, bottles, cans, cartons, and trays.

Functions of food packaging

Food packaging serves many important functions. They may be broken down as follows.

  1. Containment: For items that are granulated, paper-based packages are the best, with a sealing system to prevent infiltration of moisture into the product. Other products are packaged using metal cans, plastic bags and bottles, and glass containers. Another factor in containment is packaging durability—in other words, the packaged food has to survive transport from the food processing facility to the supermarket to the home for the consumer.
  2. Protection: The packaging must protect the food from (a) biological agents such as rats, insects, and microbes; (b) mechanical damage such as product abrasion, compressive forces, and vibration; and (c) from chemical degradation such as oxidation, moisture transfer, and ultraviolet light.
  3. Communication: Packaged food must be identified for consumer use, mainly with label text and graphics. It can also be done by using special shapes for the food package, such as the Coca-Cola bottle or the can of Spam. Other well-known food package shapes include potato chip bags and milk bottles. These packages also detail nutritional information, and whether they are packaged according to kosher or halal specifications. The label may also indicate whether it is safe to put the packaged food (such as a TV dinner) through a microwave process.
  4. Environmental issues: To protect the environment, we must be willing to reuse or recycle the packaging or reduce the size of the packaging.
  5. Package safety: Before using a particular type of package for food, researchers must ensure that it is safe to use that packaging for the food being considered, and that there are no adverse interactions between the package and the food. This includes any metal contamination issues from a can to the food product or any plastic contamination from a bottle to the food product.
  6. Product access: The packaging must be such that the product is readily accessible when the consumer is ready to use it. For example, pour spouts on milk cartons can make it easy to dispense the milk.

Food packaging types

The materials mentioned above can be fashioned into different types of food packages and containers. Examples are given below.

Packaging type Type of container Examples of foods packaged
Aseptic packages Primary Liquid whole eggs
Plastic trays Primary Portion of fish
Bags Primary Potato chips
Bottles Primary Bottle of a soft drink
Boxes Secondary Box of soft drink bottles
Cans Primary Can of tomato soup
Cartons Primary Carton of eggs
Flexible packaging Primary Bagged salad
Pallets Tertiary A series of boxes on a single pallet, to transport packaged food from the manufacturing plant to a distribution center.
Wrappers Tertiary Used to wrap the boxes on the pallet for transport.

Primary packaging is the main packaging that holds the food that is being processed. Secondary packaging combines the primary packages into a single box. Tertiary packaging combines all of the secondary packages into one pallet.

Special techniques

  • Vacuum packaging or inert atmosphere packaging: Oxygen in the air tends to reduce the shelf life of food by the process known as oxidation. To prevent this process, some foods are packaged at reduced pressure (partial vacuum) or using an inert gas (such as nitrogen) to replace oxygen.
  • Bags-In-Boxes: These are used for soft drink syrups, other liquid products, and meat products.
  • Wine box: This is a type of box designed for storage of wine.

Packaging machines

The design and use of packaging machinery needs to take into account the following factors: technical capabilities, labor requirements, worker safety, maintainability, serviceability, reliability, ability to integrate into the packaging line, capital cost, floorspace, flexibility of use, energy usage, quality of outgoing packages, qualifications (for food, phamaceuticals, and so forth), throughput, efficiency, productivity, and ergonomics.

Packaging machines may be of the following general types:

  • Blister, Skin and Vacuum Packaging Machines
  • Capping, Over-Capping, Lidding, Closing, Seaming and Sealing Machines
  • Cartoning Machines
  • Case and Tray Forming, Packing, Unpacking, Closing and Sealing Machines
  • Check weighing machines
  • Cleaning, Sterilizing, Cooling and Drying Machines
  • Conveying, Accumulating, and Related Machines
  • Feeding, Orienting, Placing, and Related Machines
  • Filling Machines: handling liquid and powdered products
  • Package Filling and Closing Machines
  • Form, Fill and Seal Machines
  • Inspecting, Detecting and Checkweighing Machines
  • Palletizing, Depalletizing, Pallet Unitizing and Related Machines
  • Product Identification: for labeling, marking, and so forth
  • Wrapping Machines
  • Converting Machines
  • Other specialty machinery

See also

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barron, F.H., and J.D. Burcham. 2003. "Glass Containers." In Encyclopedia of Agricultural, Food, and Biological Engineering. D.R. Heldman (ed.). New York: Marcel Dekker. pp. 436-439. ISBN 978-0824709372
  • ———. 2003. "Metal Containers." In Encyclopedia of Agricultural, Food, and Biological Engineering. D.R. Heldman (ed.). New York: Marcel Dekker. pp. 636-642. ISBN 978-0824709372
  • Bourque, R.A. 2003. "Secondary Packaging." In Encyclopedia of Agricultural, Food, and Biological Engineering. D.R. Heldman (ed.). New York: Marcel Dekker. pp. 873-879. ISBN 978-0824709372
  • Chinnan, M.S., and D.S. Cha. 2003. "Primary Packaging." In Encyclopedia of Agricultural, Food, and Biological Engineering. D.R. Heldman (ed.). New York: Marcel Dekker. pp. 781-784. ISBN 978-0824709372
  • Hanlon, J.F., R.J. Kelsey, and H.E. Forcinio. 1998. Handbook of Package Engineering, 3rd ed. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Publishing. ISBN 1566763061
  • Potter, Norman N., and Joseph H. Hotchkiss. 1998. Food Science, 5th ed. Food Science Texts Series. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers. ISBN 083421265X
  • Steven, M.D., and J.H. Hotchkiss. 2003. "Package Functions." In Encyclopedia of Agricultural, Food, and Biological Engineering. D.R. Heldman (ed.). New York: Marcel Dekker. pp. 716-719. ISBN 978-0824709372


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