A distribution cycle implies potential threats for goods and, due to their nature, food products are particularly vulnerable. Guaranteeing the safety of the products depends on choosing the right food packaging materials and testing materials to anticipate possible damages and hazards.
Why is food packaging so important?
The transportation of food products multiplies every year, in part due to the increase in online commerce. According to the latest data from Global Data, by 2022, almost 10% of all grocery sales will likely be made online. In terms of cash value, that amounts to a whopping $133.8 billion. Such a figure will require special attention to the packaging of the products during distribution to keep them in good condition.
Just as what happens with the pharmaceutical industry, food packaging is particularly critical, since it is the main barrier that protects these products against the hazards of the distribution cycle.
This means that food packaging containers have several functions:
- They allow for the conservation of the products that they carry by using adequate food packaging materials. This prevents the food from getting contaminated by external smells or other particles and let the goods “breathe” when necessary (such as when transporting vegetables).
- They protect the product against the physical-mechanical hazards of transportation (shock, drop, compression forces, etc.).
- They reduce costs and increase efficiency. The optimization of food packaging implies avoiding over-packaging, incurring unnecessary expenses, in addition to finding the right size for more economical and efficient transportation.
- They comply with strict health regulations.
- They play a key role in the company’s marketing and image. On one hand, they are a key aspect of branding, in addition to showing the product’s specifications. On the other, choosing an eco-friendly food packaging material also results in a positive brand image. Lastly, they guarantee the product’s arrival to the customer in perfect condition, which is a key factor in achieving a positive image and gaining the customer’s loyalty.
In light of these functions, choosing inadequate food packaging materials can imply risks such as the loss of product quality, the absorption of external aromas or flavors, or the migration of toxic products of the packaging itself.
There are a number of regulations that apply to any material that is expected to be in contact with food products. In Europe, these include (EC) No. 1935/2004, Commission Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 (on plastics) and Regulation (EC) 2023/2006 (on packaging manufacturing).
Main food packaging materials for distribution
> Paper and cardboard
These are low-cost, conformable materials, in addition to being eco-friendly (they are biodegradable, recyclable and sometimes, reusable). These food packaging materials can serve as primary, secondary and tertiary packaging.
For example, egg cartons could be considered to be primary packaging, cosmetics boxes would be an example of secondary packaging, and corrugated boxes that contain several products together would be tertiary packaging.
Their disadvantages include the fact that they are not waterproof. However, there are solutions such as isothermal cardboard boxes for transportation in refrigerated trucks.
A less economical solution than cardboard, but that shares other advantages with that material, such as its sustainability (it is biodegradable, even if its extraction can have a significant environmental impact).
It is used in the transportation of fresh products, such as fruit and vegetable boxes or as secondary or tertiary packaging, such as transport pallets.
Highly used in the conservation of canned goods and beverages – especially sheet metal coated with tin and aluminum cans. These are recyclable materials that preserve the characteristics of the products they contain (avoiding smells, radiation and microorganisms) and are usually treated to prevent the interaction between the material and the product within.
Its advantages include the ability to protect the product within (it is gas-proof and neutral), in addition to being reusable. Its drawback is that it is highly fragile. It is mainly used in the beverages sector as primary packaging for the transportation of beverages such as wine or beer, or liquid foods.
A lightweight, malleable solution that offers an adequate barrier against eternal contamination and the hazards of transportation. However, it is the least sustainable material for food packaging containers, and some types of plastics let gases and radiation in.
Plastic can be used as a primary (vacuum-sealed bags or PET bottles), secondary (flexible film) or tertiary (stretch film) packaging.
> Innovative materials
Research efforts have culminated in innovative food packaging materials that aim to improve sustainability: this includes edible or water-soluble materials, bio-packaging (made from renewable and compostable sources) and recyclable and reusable plastic substitutes.
Testing your food packaging materials
The food packaging testing process is an essential step toward optimizing the selected materials and ensuring that they meet their protective function.
Some of the most important tests aimed at ensuring the usability and safety of the food packaging include:
- Chemical testing of food packaging materials.
- Environmental regulation compliance testing.
- Testing materials to ensure that they fulfill their purpose (for example, ensuring their resistance against punctures, the proper functioning of their closing and sealing system, etc.).
- Testing the migration of packaging material toward the product within.
- Environmental conditioning, which simulates the temperature and humidity conditions that the food packaging will have to endure, in order to anticipate its resistance.
- Foreseeable Use Assessment: foresees the potential inadequate uses of the packages (such as uses given by children) and tries to avoid them through design.
- Testing for physical hazards for persons (anticipating risky situations when tearing or biting off part of the package).
For food packaging testing in transportation, it includes the following testing methods focused on secondary and tertiary packaging:
> Horizontal or inclined impact
The horizontal or inclined impact test simulates the possible shocks that the product+packaging system might experience during transportation.
> Drop test
The drop tester replicates potential flat, edge and corner drops that might occur during the distribution cycle, thereby compromising the safety of the goods.
> Compression test
The compressometer tests the ability of a package to withstand the compression forces that take place during the distribution cycle. It can therefore be used to know the conditions under which boxes can be stacked on top of each other without compromising the product.
> Vibration test
The vibration + Pitch&Roll tester simulates the vibration forces that might affect the goods during transportation, in addition to pitch and roll motions.
> Clamp test
The clamp tester is designed to measure the protective ability of packages when subjected to the horizontal pressures of automated warehousing. This is one of the tests that Amazon requires compliance with for sellers who wish to sell their products over its platform. This test is included in the ISTA6-Amazon.com procedure within the Frustration-Free Packaging program.
At Safe Load TT we help you choose the right food packaging materials
Through the testing of materials, it is possible to know the properties of the product+packaging system and anticipate its behavior when facing the hazards of the distribution cycle in a laboratory setting, preventing economic losses.
Additionally, these tests are fundamental in the packaging characterization and design process, in order to determine the right and optimal materials for the product that they are to contain or transport.
The adequate tests for the product to be transported, the selected route and the regulations in effect will be performed during the transport simulation phase.
At Safe Load TT we help you characterize and optimize your food packaging through our packaging optimization and testing solutions so that you are able to choose the right materials, capable of protecting the goods while achieving economic and logistical efficiency. Contact us and let’s talk about how we can help.