Packaging not only protects the product from damage during shipping and transit but also helps to extend its shelf life. While most packaging modes fulfil the first two requirements, the best way to extend the shelf life of a product especially for food items would be to eliminate the presence of oxygen within the packaging. Vacuum packing is a method of packaging that removes air from the package before sealing. This involves the removal of air either manually or automatically while placing the product in a plastic film package and sealing the package. The purpose of vacuum packing is to remove atmospheric oxygen from the container to extend the shelf life of foods and, with flexible package forms, to reduce the volume of the contents.
Oxygen is one of the primary sources of product degradation. Vacuum packing helps to prevent oxidation reactions such as lipid oxidation, loss of certain vitamins and pigments, enzymic browning, etc. Enzymic browning is an oxidation reaction that is mostly seen in fruits and vegetables, causing the food to turn brown. It also prevents deterioration by aerobic microorganisms and particularly mold. Vacuum packing removes oxygen from the primary package products are packed in.
Vacuum packing can be used both on consumable and non-consumable products. It is used to store dry foods over a long time, such as cereals, nuts, cured meats, cheese, coffee, etc. It can also be used on a short-term basis to store fresh foods, such as vegetables, meats, and liquids, as it restrains bacterial growth. It is also used to reduce the bulk of non-food products like clothing, bedding, cotton, etc. It is considered a form of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). This is a form of packaging that alters the atmosphere around the product as compared to the external atmosphere.
The packaging is hermetically sealed meaning that the given product is airtight to maintain the vacuum. However, a certain amount of oxygen will always remain in the packaging, limiting the use of vacuum packaging to certain products. A variety of packaging materials are used for vacuum packaging. Materials like polyethylene, polyamide, ethylene vinyl alcohol, and other materials such as packaging films, foils, trays, bags, and lids. These materials help to ensure that the vacuum created within the packaging is maintained to enhance the shelf life of the product.
This procedure has several benefits:
- Protects the contents from oxidation
- Prevents the build-up of moisture
- Discourages the growth of oxygen-dependent microorganisms
- Represses reproduction of insects
- Seals in flavours
- Eliminates the need for chemical preservatives
- Improves product presentation
- Preserves food products for a longer period
- Prevents freezer burn
The increasing demand for hygienic, eco-friendly, and economical packaging solutions, has made vacuum packing a popular choice of packaging. This technology enables to significantly increase the shelf life of products, thus increasing the potential for sales and profits.
The vacuum packing technology is constantly improving with the usage of recyclable materials hence ensuring the protection of the environment. It is an economical and lightweight packaging solution for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.