Today, packaging plays a crucial role in the quality of foodstuffs by offering protection from physical, chemical and environmental contaminants. The protection ranges from preventing the product from breakage to setting up barriers against gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide as well as moisture, aromas, and flavors. Packaging can protect coloring and nutrients in a certain food product from deteriorating by blocking light. Together with offering passive protection, some modern packages play an active role in a products quality by assisting to maintain a desired atmosphere around it. The main functions of packaging materials are to offer communication, utility, and protection in atmospheric, physical, and human environments. This essay looks at food packaging designs between 1945 and 1990.
The development of food packaging and designs has evolved gradually as humans lifestyles change. For a long time, people simply consumed what they could get in their immediate surroundings. However, as they abandoned a nomadic lifestyle and started living in sheltered places, the need for containers to store foodstuffs arose. Packaging also evolves as knowledge progresses. Newer understandings of science, developments in manufacturing, and material discoveries characterize the history of food packaging. Its developments bring along numerous benefits such as food distribution safety and improved health. After the Second World War, packaging became quite varied and could accommodate various different distribution needs like weight minimization and food preservation. The goal was to find a packaging design that satisfies the food requirements with as little amount of tradeoffs as possible. As the food packaging industry gradually developed in the post war period, the quest for the ideal food packaging became exploratory and intricate.
After the end of World War 2 in 1945, there was an increase in attention on foodstuffs and food quality. Materials such as plastics that had been developed for warfare applications made their way into the food packaging industry. A number of developments were made aimed at improving the quality of food and make it possible for consumers to have a wide variety all year round. Plastics were among the materials that saw significant improvements in their properties. Polyethylene happened to be one of the first forms of plastics widely used to package food. Examples include high-density (HDEP), low-density (LDPE), very low density (VLDPE), and linear low density (LLDPE). Low density polyethylene was the first to be manufactured back in 1933 by a company called Imperial Chemicals Industries. The earliest sandwich bag on a roll made from plastic was put into the market in 1957. By 1966, more than a quarter of all bread for sale was packaged in LDPE plastic bags. This packaging is still widely used even today for many bread products out there. Some manufacturers have resumed the use of paper bags for packaging bread as a way of giving it an artisanal feel. However, these bags do not preserver the loaves that well as their quality deteriorates much faster than when stored in plastic bags.
Although plastic materials have been more widely used to package food since World War 2, recent developments has contributed to their increased usage. For instance, isotactic polypropylene was discovered in 1954. It is processed in such a way that a film is created that has a better clarity, moisture vapor barrier, and more stiffness. The material is widely used to overwrap snack foods. A notable process that makes barriers even better is known as metallization. It involves heating an aluminum wire until it vaporizes and deposits on the films surface. The process substantially improves the moisture vapor rate of transmission. Coextrusion is another process used to make the properties of plastic films even better, having been developed in 1964. A film having at least two of different types of plastic is made in a single step. Since the layers do not have to be laminated using an adhesive, the use of solvents is eliminated. Examples of materials made using this method include polyester film that offers a better gas barrier and ethylene vinyl alcohol (EvOH) and polypropylene films that provide better moisture barriers. The three materials can readily be combined into a single structure to give foodstuffs better protection against oxygen and moisture permeation.
A number of packaging designs have formed new food categories while also changing the way they are delivered to consumers. For instance, metal cans are now typically made using tin-plated steel. Aluminum cans were initially manufactured and used as food packaging materials in the 1950s. Nowadays, they are quite widely utilized, especially for carbonated drinks. Ring pulls for the cans were first introduced in 1963 and allowed the consumer to open a can and drink directly from it. Plastic bottles made using polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is another material used to package carbonated beverages. The bottles concept was introduced in 1970 by Pepsi. However, there is a challenge presented by PET in that it must offer a barrier to flavors and carbon dioxide but should not contaminate the drink with its components. A notable residual component found in PET is acetaldehyde, which is capable of creating unpleasant flavors in the beverage. Smaller bottles present a challenge in that the carbonation can be through permeation as they have a larger surface to volume ratio. Most of such bottles used nowadays either have a coating or are multilayered to provide the required barrier.
A notable way of storing food is active packaging, which comes in different types. One type called a susceptor and is applied to microwave foodstuffs such as popcorn. Microwave popcorn was first sold in 1971 in a simple paper bag package. The product only achieved mainstream success in the mid-1980s when the packaging included a microwave susceptor. Such a package is made up of two layers of paper with a susceptor (metalized PET film) laminated between them in a way that it lies on the ovens floor. The film has a thinner metal layer that interacts with the heat and microwave energy to a temperature that is twice the boiling point. Then heat generated provides the energy required to pop the kernels. In the absence of the susceptor, the popcorn will contain a huge number of unpopped kernels.
Another kind of active packaging material is that which absorbs oxygen. As is the case for beer bottle crown liners, it is possible to build oxygen liners into food packaging materials in order to eliminate residual air from around the product. Alternatively, a sachet containing a material such as iron oxide can be put into the package. Some industries are looking for ways to incorporate flavors into food packaging materials in order to maintain the flavors quality and release it during consumption.
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