New guide evaluates 'active' and 'intelligent' packaging

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Carbon dioxide Food Oxygen

Active and intelligent packaging is the focus of a new review produced by the Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association (CCFRA).

Active packaging involves an interaction between pack and food product to extend the shelf life of the product, while intelligent pack monitors the quality and/or safety of a food product, providing an indication that can be helpful in the distribution chain, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and sensors.

Lynneric Potter, one of the authors of the new guide explained that it was written as part of a three year member-funded project entitled ‘The Study of the Safety and Quality aspects of the Technology used in Active and Intelligent Packaging’​.

“As part of the research project we are also carrying out demonstrative trials with different active and intelligent devices,”​ said Potter.

She told that the review was prompted by the fact that while many in the food industry have heard of the different active and intelligent devices available, they may not necessarily know how they work or the types of products they can be used with.

Starting point

She added that food companies often do not have the time or resources available to carry out the required research into new packaging developments.

“This document gives them a starting point explaining the different options available, the advantages and disadvantages of different methods, the factors that need to be taken into consideration as well as potential suppliers and information on products currently in the marketplace.

“The document is not just limited to UK readers but refers to active and intelligent devices being used worldwide and a large number of the distributors of these devises are outside the UK - we have a list of these at the end of the document,”​ said Potter.

Safety hazards

She said the guide cautions food companies and packaging suppliers on the potential safety hazards involved in this type of packaging such as factors to consider when using moisture absorbers:

“It is important to select the correct absorbency so as to prevent saturation and it is also necessary to take into account the environmental factors the product will be exposed to during its shelf life such as temperature and humidity,” ​claims Potter.

The review evaluates the benefits of ethanol emitters in packaging and says that their advantage lies in the fact that ethanol no longer needs to be sprayed directly on to the product but can be slowly released from the sachet. It cautions, however, that too much ethanol can have a negative impact on flavour.

Potter said there are a lot of considerations for processors when using antimicrobials such as how manufacture, distribution and storage can alter the effectiveness of the antimicrobial.

"There are also concerns that the use of antimicrobials might lead to the development of new strains of bacteria which over time become resistant to biocides,​ “added Potter.

Food and drink applications

The review also highlights the different materials used in the manufacture of active and intelligent packaging and the types of products to which they can be applied:

It reports that oxygen scavengers are being used with premium meat products, beer and wine bottles (incorporation into the cap or wall of the bottle), and also in applications such as peanuts packs, using a sachet.

Moisture absorbers, according to the guide, are typically employed with meat, fish and poultry products; new developments in this area including breathable absorbers that prevent discoloration of the meat by allowing circulation of oxygen.

Butylated hydroxytolune (BHT) is being added to packaging materials of products such as crackers to act as an antioxidant to extend the freshness of the product, states the review, and carbon dioxide scavengers are being used with coffee and products containing inactivated yeast to prevent the pack blowing.

It also mentions that carbon dioxide emitters can be used with high fat products as well as baked goods to replenish the carbon dioxide within the pack and, in doing so, prevent pack collapse and aerobic microbial growth.

Self-heating and cooling cans as well as self-dispensing devices such as vitamins, flavourings into drinks and yoghurts and aroma release also feature in the evaluation.

Limited uptake in UK

She said that there is a lot of research and development going on in this area worldwide, and, while active and intelligent devices are being used in the UK, consumers are not really being exposed to them.

“Until new regulations define the uses for these products and the costs reduce they will still be used at pallet level or on premium products,”​ explained Potter.

However, she said a number of retailers are now requesting that RFID tags be used more at item level rather than just on pallets, with products such as meat being tagged at slaughter, which allows the addition of information about the product at each stage of the distribution chain.


Potter claims there is a need to educate the consumer on these devices.

“Studies have shown consumers would want RFID tags deactivated once they leave the supermarket with their purchases,”​ she said.

CCFRA will hold its 3rd International Conference on Active and Intelligent Packaging at its premises on 1 and 2 April 2009.

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