1. The difficult material trade-off.
Sturdy packaging per se offers a higher barrier if properly designed. But depending on the design, even thin materials can already meet these requirements. Fiber-based packaging is usually thicker than thin films, and the material weighs more. On the one hand, the tendency of product manufacturers is toward longer shelf life to be more flexible in warehousing and logistics and to better serve new markets far away. On the other hand, this requires higher packaging barriers and thus more complex or stronger packaging.
2. The hidden tool: Design
When designing food packaging, product handling is obviously essential. Do I need a reseal because the amount of product is not consumed in one go? For many fresh products, oxygen in the package is essential to the deterioration of the food. This can be controlled to some extent by gases, or by a vacuum. Both options require different materials. Frozen products, on the other hand, have different requirements for long shelf life compared to fresh products, which the packaging must take into account. Beers and wines also have special packaging requirements in terms of pressure stability, tightness, headspace or light protection, which affect the quality of the product. In design, it is therefore important to know the requirements and to design the packaging accordingly.
3. Ripe for a solution: logistics
Much of food waste is caused by mishandling in the supply chain. Temperature, ripening, moisture, oxygen and nitrogen play a major role in fruit and vegetables. If the products arrive at the market unripe or too ripe, the consumer leaves them to the left and picks out the best specimens. The rest then often goes to waste or, in the best case, is sold at a lower price. This also applies to some baked goods, such as toast, which also has short delivery routes. Many fresh products such as fruits and vegetables do not need packaging for a longer shelf life. But they do need transport protection, as with berries or other sensitive varieties. The examining look into the peel, the light finger pressure when selecting the ripe peach or kiwi have long been standard when shopping. Here, the appropriate transport containers – whether they are made of cardboard or reusable crates – can preserve the quality of many foods.
4. A look into the laboratory: shelf life via additives
For many years, attempts have been made to introduce antibacterial ingredients to and into the pack via additives, also from plant extracts, so that bacterial and microbial infestation and thus decay are stopped or delayed. Many attempts have also been made with nanoparticles in the pack, partly with an antibacterial function or to reduce the oxygen content in the pack, which the bacteria need to grow.
5. Look at the package: the freshness signal
To counteract the discarding of food at the end of the best-before date, trials are also being carried out with photo-optical detection of food quality. The aim is to use this optical recognition to signal to consumers whether the food is still edible. Thus, in the long term, it could be considered to do without the indication of the best-before date. Unfortunately, far too many consumers still believe that the best-before date means the end of food safety. In fact, it only indicates the minimum guaranteed quality time.
Other attempts with signaling labels on the packaging, which change their color with increasing bacteria infestation or clear change of the atmosphere in the packaging – exist already for many years. However, these have not caught on. Presumably because retailers fear that this would mean that restricted food quality would be immediately visible and that write-offs would increase significantly and would also allow conclusions to be drawn visually about the quality standards of the retailer.