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Plastics satisfy parameters like rancidity key for snack food packaging
Thursday, 02 July, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Laltu Sinha
Snack food is usually not part of the main meal, but comprises items eaten for pleasure and relaxation between meals. Increasing urban population, rising number of nuclear families, growing strength of working women, higher per-capita income along with media penetration has contributed to the attractiveness of snack food in India.

Although snack foods are classified and perceived differently from region to region, by consumers and manufacturers, snack foods traditionally embrace a category of savoury, crispy products that are ready-to-eat and stable at regular room temperature for 2 to 16 weeks.

Packaging is Indian economy's fifth-largest sector and is growing at 22-25% per year, according to the Packaging Industry Association of India (PIAI). India has seen sustainable growth in packaging in recent years as a result of increased packaged food consumption and awareness, and demand for quality products.

In 2020, India's Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) announced new packaging regulations replacing the previous 2011 provisions. The new regulations include a migration limit of 60 mg / kg or 10 mg / dm2 in plastic packaging materials and migration limits for specific contaminates.
Snack food packaging requirements include greaseproofness, rancidity, loss of crispness, machinability, physical strength, printability and integrity of seals. To a large extent, plastics satisfy these requirements for snack food packaging. Plastic products are synthetics made of oil, coal or natural gas and are now one of the main packaging materials used in wraps, bags, pouches, bottles, cans, tubes, trays and boxes. Plastics have uses in transport packaging too, where steel, wood and glass were replaced. 

Blister Packs
This is the world's quickest way of packing. It consists of mixing plastic materials with paperboard to create products that are visual, self selling. Due to the extreme versatility it offers, the size and type are numerous. The blister packs consist of a preformed plastic blister, paperboard, and a paperboard heat sealing cover. The selection of blister packaging material in terms of type, thickness and grade depends on many factors, such as product height and weight, sharp and pointed edges of the product, heat sealing properties, product compatibility and machinability. PVC, PVDC coated PVC, OPS and recently PET are still used as the most widely used plastic materials for blister packs.

Heat seal coatings create a bond between the plastic blister and the paperboard card printed. Using roll coaters, engraving, or flexographic processes, these solvent or water based coatings may be applied to rolls or sheets of printed paperboard. Generally used paperboard thickness ranging from 0.45 to 0.60 mm in. The normal assembly sequence involves loading the blister with the product, placing the paperboard card over the blister and sealing the package by heat.

Skin Packaging
The product itself, in skin packaging, is the mould over which the heated plastic film or a "head" is drawn by vacuum and heat sealed to the paperboard. The skin packaging has three main components: the plastic film, the heat seal coating and the paperboard card. The skin packaging uses three types of films: LDPE, PVC and Surlyn Ionomer. Skin packaging films are usually heated, draped and developed and connected in one operation to the paperboard card.
Foams

The mould consists of two walls through which steam is diffused through a mass of plastic granules (EPS, PE, polyurethane), entering through a large number of openings or slitting plates distributed uniformly around the inner wall.

Expanded Polystyrene Foaming-The conversion takes place by increasing the temperature in two stages. Pre-expansion or free expansion of polystyrene beads in the first step yields expanded polystyrene flakes. Such flakes are then used to fill the mould, and they grow under heat and pressure to assume the shape of the mould. Two processes exit: hot air heating followed by friction, and mould heating by steam. Blocks and moulded shapes could be produced.
Polyurethane Foaming-Conversion starts with dosing machines that feed the specific liquid ingredients into a mixing head that deposits them on the belt (free foaming) or into a closed forced foaming (mould) where expansion starts. There are two types of machines: the "pre-polymer" low pressure system (in which the mixing is by compressed air agitator and gear pump feeding) and the "one-shot" high-pressure machine.

Polyethylene Foaming-Conversion initiates with a blowing agent and a polymermixture to which cross-linking agents (di-cumulated butyl and tributyl peroxides) are added. Shaping is performed through schedule. Chemical or radiation cross-linking is conducted at temperatures under the blowing agent's breakdown temperatures.
Flexible Plastics-The vast majority of snacks come in flexible bags today. A variety of versatile materials are used for snack foods on the Indian market, depending on the commodity and the consumer segment. Low value may be branded or non-branded, usually conventional snack foods and wafers. No-branded snacks are packed in polyethylene (LDPE) and polypropylene ( PP) pouches for shorter shelf-life. Laminated structures are used for the branded snacks and nuts.

Some of the typical structures includes:
• BOPP / LDPE
• BOPP / Polyester / LDPE
• BOPP / Metallised Polyester / LDPE
• Metallised Polyester / LDPE
• Polyester / LDPE
• Polyester / Al foil / LDPE
Flexible pouches

They can be crafted from either monolayers or laminates or co-extruded structures can be multilayered. Metalisation on plastic films is also common for improving barrier properties and opacity. Composite flexibles are also commonly used particularly for bulk packaging applications in the food industry. Flexible pouches are used for packaging items such as dried, frozen and fresh meats, poultry and seafood; dairy foods, frozen fruits, dry baking goods, coffee, tea, candy and snack foods; dry powders; cooked fruit and vegetables; condiments and liquids; and cereals and pet foods. Flexible, light weight and adaptable pouches compete favourably with other containers, such as glass and plastic bottles, metal and steel boxes, and paperboard boxes.

Consumer expectations are rising, and spectrum-wide industries are upgrading their products and systems to become smarter and delivering exceptional customer experience. Intelligent packaging offers unique features such as sensing, detecting, tracking and recording and communicating to help extend shelf life, improve quality and safety, provide information and warn about potential problems. Intelligent packaging technology can be applied to detect counterfeit items, enhance consumer engagement with the aid of smartphones, and prevent wastage through simple indication of product freshness or expiry.
Latest technologies such as nanotechnology in the packaging space are getting popular in several areas of food science such as food safety, packaging, processing, bio-availability, fortification, encapsulation, among others. The global consensus to reduce the negative environmental effects of packaging in conjunction with technological innovations has prompted brands to reduce material use, use recyclable materials in packaging and develop the use of other sustainable materials.

Recent years have seen a boom in India's e-commerce and organised retail sectors, with multiple increases in packaged food consumption, awareness, and demand for quality commodities. Brands are keeping up with the trend by using creative packaging methods to improve the experience of customers and increasing the appeal of their goods to the shelf. Plastics' ability to meet all selection criteria as an effective packaging medium has resulted in very high quantities of polymeric material being used in the snack food packaging.

(The author is research director, BlueWeave Consulting. He can be contacted at laltusinha@blueweaveconsulting.com)
 
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