Frozen Foods: Key Considerations To Optimize The Packaging Process
From: Food Manufacturing
Global interest in frozen foods has soared in recent years, resulting in numerous growth opportunities for manufacturers. Expected to reach close to $9 billion (USD) by 2019, the global frozen food packaging market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 5 percent during the period 2016-2020.
Worldwide economic growth and rising incomes, as well as consumers’ increasingly busy lifestyles, mean that more and more people are looking for convenient meal options that fit within their busy lives. Technological advancements have also played a central role, with new film types and improved packaging designs coming to the forefront. Vertical form, fill and seal (VFFS) systems are widely used to package frozen produce due to their flexibility, high sealing performance, hygienic design and reliability in harsh environments. However, there are several considerations for manufacturers when specifying a frozen food packaging system.
The frozen food industry has some of the highest safety standards, particularly concerning sanitation and cleaning procedures. Food packaging machinery in this industry needs to withstand some of the most demanding sanitation requirements and cleaning procedures. Ingress Protection (IP) ratings are commonly used across the food industry to measure the protection level of equipment against solid objects, liquids and mechanical parts. Frozen food packaging technology should typically be IP65 protected. Such machinery offers total protection from dust ingress and harsh washdown procedures, including low pressure water jets (from any direction).
Individual components of the packaging system are also required to meet regulatory requirements. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s NEMA 4x rating, for instance, stipulates that control systems must be protected against the ingress of solid foreign objects such as windblown dust, as well as harmful effects on the equipment caused by water or ice. Typically more corrosive-resistant than standard NEMA 4 units, NEMA 4x enclosures are regularly used in food processing facilities to offer protection for controls systems, where total washdowns with disinfectants occur frequently.
A hygienically designed packaging system is one of the best ways to optimize food safety and quality. VFFS systems are a popular choice as they are designed to leverage the benefits of gravity to transport products, and their sloping surfaces make it is easier to prevent food residues from accumulating on the equipment. Easier access to machine parts further simplifies cleaning procedures. Ideally, cleaning should be possible without removing components; but if components need to be removed, it should have a tool-less design with no loose parts. In addition, crevices, corners and other areas where food can build up are open invitations to cross-contamination. The packaging system design should therefore be free of features that create recesses, gaps and areas that are typically hard to clean.
Product application and the type of cleaning procedure often determine the best construction materials for the packaging system. When using harsh cleaning agents or frequent high-pressure washdowns, stainless steel is a must. It offers a smooth, defect-free surface to prevent product residue build-up, as well as easier cleaning. Alternatively, if dry cleaning is applied, food producers can consider other alternatives, such as aluminum.