Eva Almenar, Ph.D., associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Packaging, presents at ASB’s BakingTech on the future of packaging.

CHICAGO — Consumer demands are creating a new breed of packaging materials, said Eva Almenar, Ph.D., associate professor at the Michigan State University’s School of Packaging. Dr. Almenar told an audience at The American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2018 that active and intelligent packaging is ready for more widespread use in baking.

In her presentation “The Future of Packaging for Baked Goods,” Dr. Almenar said these design features will be able to extend freshness while other trends like clean label, which might limit shelf life, continue to grow.

Dr. Almenar said the driving factors pushing companies to create active packaging are clean label and e-commerce trends. The clean label movement has food producers eliminating preservatives and looking to find solutions for shelf-life extension through ingredients. Just some of the challenges in extending shelf life in baked foods include lipid oxidation, microbial growth and moisture loss. Active packaging can fight each of these. New packaging materials have shown promise in alleviating some of the formulating challenges. Imagine an artisan loaf of bread with a two-week shelf life because of antimicrobials and moisture sensors in packaging film.

“The package is going to do the work that the preservatives did before,” Dr. Almenar said.

Antimicrobial packaging includes additives, or “active compounds,” incorporated into the material or placed within the container to interact directly with the food product. Many can help maintain a clean label claim as they can be natural, or bio-based, Dr. Almenar said. Compounds can be incorporated directly into the packaging film, line the inside of a film or paper packaging or be dropped in using a sachet. These antimicrobials can scavenge oxygen or moisture in a package or release compounds that infuse antimicrobials into the packaging environment. Examples already in use are nitrogen flushing and the use of activated charcoal.

“The beauty of active packaging is that you can release antimicrobials over time and relative to humidity and temperature,” Dr. Almenar said. “So the higher the humidity and temperature, more antimicrobial is going to be released into the packaging space.”

Intelligent packaging can include stickers on the outside of packages that alert consumers to product temperature over a certain amount of time. Dr. Almenar said this technology is used in the shipping of seafood to track freshness. Its future in bread applications remains to be seen.

Dr. Almenar also noted that packaging will no longer just be a carrier for product, but it will also serve a more important function of protecting the freshness of a product well beyond what current materials offer.