What is Food Packaging and What Are The Different Types & Machines Related to It

What is Food Packaging and What Are The Different Types & Machines Related to It

Andrew Lightstead Last Updated on March 10, 2022, by Andrew Lightstead 10 mins well spent

Food packaging is something that every person is familiar with. Modern life is full of processed foods – and packaging technology plays a big part in food safety by preserving food products and extending their shelf life.

If you observe your trip to the grocery store, you will find out that almost all processed foods you bring home are packaged.

In this article, you will learn more about food packaging technology.

So let’s dive into the intriguing world of food packaging:

What is Food Packaging?

Food packaging refers to how food items are packed, the materials used, and the technology that makes it possible.

Food is packed for various purposes, such as extending the shelf life of items. But food packaging is not modern science. In fact, its history might surprise you.

Who invented food packaging?

Food packaging has been around in various forms throughout history. According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Napoleon played a significant role in its development, offering a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could invent an effective packaging method for food. Napoleon needed a new method to prevent his army’s food from getting spoiled.

The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry explains that this prize was unclaimed until 15 years later when Nicholas Appert came forward with the canning method. His process involved boiling food and sealing it in airtight glass containers, giving birth to the modern canned food we see in grocery stores.

Short history of food packaging

Food packaging history goes way back! The Chinese were instrumental in developing paper and wrapping paper, which was used for food storage.

In Egypt, the developments took place in the form of glass blowing and molding techniques. Glass was molded into different forms to store food and water.

Since then, developments kept evolving through revolutionaries such as Nicholas Appert. Modern metal cans evolved from Appert’s glass ‘canning’ method. Cardboard cereal boxes were used by the food manufacturer Quaker Oats to pack their oats in the 1880s.

What are the major functions of food packaging?

There is a lot more to creating food packages than meets the eye. Here are some of the essential functions of food packages:

  1. Food Preservation: Food packaging prevents contact of air and moisture with food items. Open food items can rot within a matter of hours. Correctly packaged food has an extended shelf life – good news for any food manufacturer.
  2. Protection from Biological Agents: Food packaging also protects the food from agents such as rats, insects, germs, bacteria, and other biological factors which can spoil the food or make the food dangerous to eat.
  3. Information: We all read labels on food products. Food packaging allows brands to provide important information, like brand name, expiry date, and ingredients on every food item they sell.
  4. Better Usage: Food packaging also allows easier usage of products, such as milk cartons or sliced food items provided in cans. You can store these foods as per their shelf life and use them when required.

What are the different types of food packaging?

The different types of food packaging include:

  • Aseptic Packages: These provide sterilized food product packages that do not need refrigeration. Aseptic cartons are used for food products and beverages such as whole liquid eggs, soup, milk, other dairy products, etc.
  • Trays: These are used for storing meats, seeds, fish, and drink cans. They have a standard flat shape with high sides to prevent the contents from falling.
  • Bags: Bagging (putting food into bags) is commonly used for snack crackers, chips, or packed fruits.
  • Boxes: Boxes come in many forms and are used to pack cereals, frozen foods, pizzas, fast foods, and much more.
  • Cans: Often used for beverages or canned food, cans are very versatile and long-lasting. They are made from thin metal containers coated in tin to avoid corrosion.
  • Cartons and Coated Paper: The most recognizable forms of food cartons are egg cartons for holding eggs and different shapes and sizes of aseptic cartons and coated paper to carry liquid items such as milk.
  • Flexible Packaging: This uses flexible packaging material, such as plastic sheets, foil, or paper. Bagged salad is a common item that employs flexible packaging.
  • Pallet: One of the various types of food packaging that isn’t used by the end-user but by wholesalers or distributors. A pallet features a flat surface made of metal or wood to hold multiple corrugated boxes of food items.
  • Wrappers: These hardly require an explanation. Wrappers are used extensively for confectionery products such as candy bars or chewing gum.

What are the most commonly used food packaging materials?

The most used material is paper and paperboard packaging.

Paper and Paperboard Packaging

Paper and thick paperboard material have an approximate market share of 34% when it comes to usage as food packaging materials.

This material is used to pack dry food items like rice, lentils, and flour. It is cheap and biodegradable.

Plastics

Plastic packaging for food containers is classified into two categories: Rigid plastic material and Flexible packaging plastic material.

They have a 27% and 10% market share, respectively. The benefits of plastic containers are their low cost, ability to mold into any shape, low weight, and ease of processing.

However, plastic food containers face a lot of criticism due to the challenges of recycling them.

Glass

Due to their nonpermeable nature, glass bottles are the method of choice for many liquid food items.

It is a chemically safe method and can be recycled endlessly.

However, one downside of this food packaging is its heavy weight. It also breaks easily.

Metals

Metals can carry solid and liquid food products. You can see this method used for beverages and canned foods.

Metals offer similar benefits to glass, without the heavy weight or the delicate nature of glass.

Metals used in the food industry are tin coated steel and aluminum – the latter is becoming more popular due to its barrier properties.

What are the different types of food packaging machines?

The scale of modern food processing is so large that it is no longer feasible to pack every food product by hand. This job is now done automatically by food packaging machines.

Some common examples of automation in food packaging include:

Pick and Place Machines

These pick a food product from one place and place it somewhere else. Pick and place packaging machines are commonly used for handling chocolates, snack crackers, and processing similar food products.

Case Packing Machines

PWR has flexible packaging robots that can be used to pack food into any tray, case, basket, or crate. Case packing systems can also reject any defective product as programmed.

Cutting Machines

Cutting machines are used to slice bread or other food items into smaller pieces. Innovative cutting solutions like food cutting robots can create precise cutting shapes on food items.

Smartline

Smartline is an economically feasible automation solution to speed up the workflow of your food packaging line while reducing labor costs.

It has very low costs, and can do product loading, case loading, and loading into the flow wrapper.

Packaging Machines

These come in different types like blister, skin, and vacuum packaging. Each has a different application.

For instance, blister packs are used for medicines, while vacuum bags are used for items that have a smaller quantity.

Cartoner

Cartoning machines handle making folding cartons and packing food items into them. Folding cartons generally come as flat cardboard pieces, and a cartoner converts the folding cartons into their intended shape.

Form, Fill, and Seal Machines

These machines are used to create pouches or sachets and pour the food item into them. For instance, milk pouches are made using form, fill, and seal machines.

Checkweighing Machines

These machines are installed at the end of a food packaging line. They check the weight of the final packed food item. If the weight is incorrect, the food item is rejected.

Autocoding Machines

Autocoding machines create and install labels on food packets. The labels contain details like manufacturing date, weight, relevant codes, etc.

The food packaging sector is large and includes many niche machines. There are also a lot of different variations of the machines we mentioned above.

What are the characteristics of good food packaging?

Packaging professionals know that high-quality food packaging should have the following characteristics:

No-leakage:

The material and packing method should ensure that no food leaks out after the packing is done.

Sturdy:

The packaging should be sturdy enough to handle the stress it will undergo during transportation, loading, and unloading.

Food-grade:

Some food packers use low-end materials to minimize costs. However, these materials can chemically react with food and harm the integrity of the food item. Therefore, the packaging material should be food-grade.

Airtight

While ensuring food doesn’t leak, the food packaging should also guarantee that air or moisture doesn’t enter.

Efficient

A good food packaging solution should minimize material wastage. It should use the precise amount of material required to efficiently seal the product.

Environment friendly

Today, there is more focus on environmental factors related to packaging. Efforts are being made to create packaging solutions for food that are environmentally friendly. Good food packaging nowadays contains recycling information on how to dispose of the used material.

What is the difference between primary and secondary food packaging?

Primary food packaging refers to the packaging the end-user sees and touches. Secondary food packaging holds the primary food packages together during transportation and storage, for example, boxes, pallets, etc. Let’s examine each in more detail.

Primary packaging

Primary food packaging is in direct contact with the food item. It is final packaging that the end-user has to open to access your product. For instance, candy bar wrappers or cans containing soft drinks.

This type of packaging places emphasis on appearance as well as purpose. In cases of defective packaging, the user will almost always discard the product, as the food item may have perished or spoiled. Primary packaging also contains any marketing information the brand intends to convey to the user.

Secondary packaging

Secondary packing holds together different items of primary packaged food items. Secondary packages ensure the safe transportation of the items from the packaging origin to the end-user.

An example of this packing is the corrugated cardboard box that carries multiple cans or a big plastic box or bag that contains numerous candy bars.

Secondary packaging such as corrugated cardboard can be removed without harming the food quality. The appearance isn’t as important as the purpose of secondary packaging, because it is not even seen by the end-user in most cases.

Does food packaging come with any downsides?

There are some cons associated with food packaging. Here are some of them:

Impact on the environment

Food packaging creates a lot of plastic packaging waste that we cannot recycle. This waste has led to the aggregation of plastic garbage in oceans and elsewhere, resulting in a negative impact on the environment.

Cost

Some types of food packaging, like active packaging and intelligent packaging, can add cost to the food item. Prime examples include complex packaging or processes that use costlier materials like aluminum.

Production footprint

Creating food packaging materials uses up a lot of essential resources. For instance, creating a half-pound of styrofoam uses one pound of petroleum. You might be surprised to know that the plastic required to make water bottles in the US uses up about 10 million barrels of oil each year.

How can we reduce food packaging waste?

There are several ways to reduce different types of food packaging waste, both as a packager and an end-user. Some of these things are:

1. Sustainable packaging materials

The essential step is to use sustainable packaging. Sustainable packaging implies packaging solutions using eco-friendly materials, without harming the environment. One of the materials that are very sustainable and recyclable is cardboard.

2. Industrial shredders

Using industrial shredders creates a lot of shredded paper and cardboard, which can be used instead of styrofoam or bubble wrap in packaging.

3. Providing recycling information

Including information about how the end-user can recycle the packaging is another step to reduce food packaging waste considerably. Most end-users throw the packaging in the trash, which generates the most waste.

4. Choosing the right packaging

Choose the right size of packaging to fit the item to be packed. Using excess packaging is a simple no-no. Additionally, use an efficient packaging process that seals the package without waste material.

What are the requirements for food packaging?

Food packaging has specific requirements that packagers must fulfill. These requirements vary from place to place, and violating them may be a legal offense. Some of the requirements include:

Necessary information

The food packing must disclose all the necessary information for that particular food item. The information that the FDA requires to be added is:

  • Common name: The name of the particular food item, such as cookies, milk, etc.
  • Net quantity: Quantity of food in the packaging. For solids, net quantity is provided by weight, while for liquids, it is provided by fluid ounces.
  • Information of manufacturer, packer, and/or distributor: The packaging should contain the name and address of the distributor or the manufacturer.
  • Nutritional information: The FDA has specific requirements for the nutritional information on the packaging. This information should contain the number of proteins, fats, carbs, etc., present in each serving, along with the size of each serving.
  • Ingredients: The list of ingredients should disclose anything used in making the food item.
  • Allergens: These can be listed using a ‘Contains’ clause in the ingredients list or adding the allergens in a separate parenthesis.
  • Use-by date: A use-by date, best before date, or expiry date are not required by the FDA, but they are compulsory in many other countries. However, including this date is still recommended to help reduce food wastage.

What does the future hold for the food packaging industry?

Due to the wide application and high demand for plastics packaging, the food packaging industry is constantly evolving. Some of the recent trends that are shifting the industry are:

Technology-enabled Solutions

More and more packers are shifting towards automated robotic food packing solutions like those provided by Pwrpack. These significantly reduce the cost and time taken to package while increasing efficiency.

Robotics

Utilizing robotics in the food industry significantly reduces the cost and time taken to package, while increasing efficiency.

Emotional Engagement

Brands seek to engage customers emotionally by using food packaging effectively.

In fact, with proper emotional engagement, some brands can create a need in the mind of the customer, instead of being used only by customers who need the product already.

Transparency

Customers like to know what they are eating. Providing more transparency about the contents of the food items can lead to more trust by the customers, and many brands are leaning this way.

Endnotes

Food packaging is something we encounter countless times every day. Unless you live on a farm, most of what you consume will come in packaging of some sort, which makes transporting food easier.

This is why the industry holds a bright future for anyone willing to invest. PWR Pack is an industry-leading food packaging solutions provider that many high-end packers trust.

Browse through our list of solutions and discover more about the various machines you can utilize for your food packaging endeavor.