Food safety is a farm-to-fork, field-to-table effort, and that includes packaging.
While product recalls in the bakery and snack industries are most often due to undeclared allergens or the detection of pathogens like Salmonella or E. coli, there have been food safety issues related to packaging.
For example, a package that is not secure in some way can lead to food safety hazards ranging from spoilage to sabotage. Dan Inman, director of quality, research and development for the Long Co., said many manufacturers have focused on packaging integrity to prevent safety-related problems but vulnerabilities remain.
“You still have bread and buns out there in packages that are closed with a wire tie or click lock and that have the potential of being opened and resealed without the consumer ever knowing the package had been opened,” he said.
Some bakeries have added a literal extra layer of package security. Mr. Inman cited Pepperidge Farm bread loaves that are wrapped within another bag.
“Having a double seal makes it more secure,” he noted.
In addition to package integrity, proper labeling is important in ensuring product safety for consumers. In an era of increasing food allergies, bakery and snack packages must have accurate information on the label that provides details on ingredients, claims and allergens.
That may get more complex, cautioned Mr. Inman.
“Right now, the F.D.A. is looking at adding sesame seeds to the list of allergens, and that would have a huge impact on baking because there are a lot of items that that would suddenly require a complete allergen cleanup and label,” he said. “Part of food safety is having alerts of allergens.”
In addition to allergen alerts, visible “buy by” and “sell by” on-package information is pivotal for any perishable bakery or snack item.
To reduce risk in the critical control point of packaging, suppliers and manufacturers are using materials and formats that enhance accurate labeling and package security. Getting buzz in recent times is the use of intelligent and active packaging, which may be achieved through technologies embedded in the package that provide information on allergens, nutrition details and expiration dates. According to Research and Markets, the market for active packaging in the United States is expected to reach a market size of $8.11 billion in 2022.
On the active packaging side, next-generation flexible packaging with nanoparticles, for example, can provide barriers to moisture or light that can cause spoilage. The Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association and other partners are working on such nano-packaging technology, including the incorporation of natural antimicrobial agents into packaging films. Those films have been shown to slow mold growth on breads without food additives.
Other R.&D. work is taking place in intelligent packaging, including packages with time and temperature indicators that alert consumers to possible spoilage.