Chapter 7 Packaging materials

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7.1 Introduction

7.1.1 Requirements and functions of food containers

The following are among the more important general requirements and functions of food packaging materials/ containers:

  1. they must be non-toxic and compatible with the specific foods;
  2. sanitary protection;
  3. moisture and fat protection;
  4. gas and odour protection;
  5. light protection;
  6. resistance to impact;
  7. transparency;
  8. tamperproofness;
  9. ease of opening;
  10. pouring features;
  11. reseal features;
  12. ease of disposal;
  13. size, shape, weight limitations;
  14. appearance, printability;
  15. low cost;
  16. special features.


7.1.2 Primary and secondary containers

The terms primary and secondary containers have been used. Some foods are provided with efficient primary containers by nature, such as nuts, oranges, eggs and the like. In packaging these, we generally need only a secondary outer box, wrap, or drum to hold units together and give gross protection.

Other foods such as milk, dried eggs and fruit concentrates often will be filled into primary containers such as plastic liners which are then packaged within protective cartons or drums. In this case the secondary container provided by the carton or drum greatly minimises the requirements that must be met by the primary container.

Except in special instances, secondary containers are not designed to be highly impervious to water vapour and other gases, especially at zones of sealing, dependence for this being placed upon the primary container.

Since primary containers by definition are those which come in direct contact with the food, we will be far more concerned with them than with secondary containers.


7.1.3 Hermetic closure

Two conditions of the greatest significance in packaging are hermetic and non-hermetic closure.

The term hermetic means a container which is absolutely impermeable to gases and vapours throughout its entirety, including its seams.

Such a container, as long as it remains intact, will automatically be impervious to bacteria, yeasts, moulds, and dirt from dust and other sources since all of these agents are considerably larger than gas or water vapour molecules.

On the other hand, a container which prevents entry of micro-organisms, in many instances will be non-hermetic. A container that is hermetic not only will protect the product from moisture gain or loss, and from oxygen pickup from the atmosphere, but is essential for strict vacuum and pressure packaging.

The most common hermetic containers are rigid metal cans and glass bottles, although faulty closures can make them non-hermetic. With very rare exceptions flexible packages are not truly hermetic for one or more of the following reasons.

First, the thin flexible films, even when they do not contain minute pinholes, generally are not completely gas and water-vapour impermeable although the rates of gas and water vapour transfer may be exceptionally slow; second, the seals are generally good but imperfect; and third, even where film materials may be gas- and water-vapour-tight, such as certain gages of aluminium foil, flexing of packages and pouches leads to minute pinholes and crease holes.

Hermetic rigid aluminium containers can be readily formed without side seams or bottom end seams. The only seam then to make hermetic is the top end double seam, which may be closed on regular tin can sealing equipment.

Glass containers are hermetic provided the lids are tight. Lids will have inside rings of plastic or cork. Many glass containers are vacuum packed and the tightness of the cover will be augmented by the differential of atmospheric pressure pushing down the cover.

Crimping of the covers, as in the case of pop bottle caps which operate against positive internal pressure, also can make a gas-tight hermetic seal. But bottles fail more often than cans in becoming non-hermetic.

7.2 Protection of food by packaging materials

Important factors in selecting a packaging unit for food storage are presented in Fig. 7.1.

Figure 7.1 Factors for selection a packaging material for food storage

7.3 Films and foils; plastics

Films and foils have different values for moisture and gas permeability, strength, elasticity, inflammability and resistance to insect penetration and many of these characteristics depend upon the film's thickness.

Important characteristics of the types of films and foils commonly used in food packaging are given in Table 7.1. For the most part such films are used in the construction of inner containers. Since they are non-rigid, their main functions are to contain the product and protect it from contact with air or water vapour. Their capacity to protect against mechanical damage is limited, particularly when thin films are considered.

TABLE 7.1 Properties of packaging films

Material Properties
Paper Strength; rigidity; opacity; printability.
Aluminium foil Negligible permeability to water-vapour, gases and odours; grease proof, opacity and brilliant appearance; dimensional stability; dead folding characteristics.
Cellulose film (coated) Strength; attractive appearance; low permeability to water vapour (depending on the type of coating used), gases, odours and greases; printability.
Polythene Durability; heat-sealability; low permeability to water-vapour; good chemical resistance; good low-temperature performance.
Rubber hydrochloride Heat-sealability; low permeability to water vapour, gases, odours and greases; chemical resistance.
Cellulose acetate Strength; rigidity; glossy appearance; printability; dimensional stability.
Vinylidene chloride Low permeability to water vapour, gases, copolymer odours and greases; chemical resistance; heat-sealability.
Polyvinyl chloride Resistance to chemicals, oils and greases; heat-sealability.
Polyethylene terephtalate Strength; durability; dimensional stability; low permeability to gases, odours and greases.

Source: FAD/WFP, (1970)

These materials can exist in many forms, depending upon such variables as identity and mixture of polymers, degree of polymerisation and molecular weight, spatial polymer orientation, use of plasticisers (softeners) and other chemicals, methods of forming such as casting, extrusion or calendering, etc.

One of the newer classes of plastic materials referred to as copolymers illustrate what can be done with mixtures of the basic units from which plastics are built. The term copolymer refers to a mixture of chemical species in the resin from which films and other forms can be made. The many variations possible make copolymers an important class of plastics to extend the range of useful food packaging applications.


7.3.1 Plastic sheets


7.3.2 Receptacles and packagings in plastic materials

In this class there are three categories:

  1. receptacles that can be heat treated: boxes, bottles and bags. Sterilisable bags used up to 120 C can be manufactured from same raw materials as described under plastic sheets and up to 100 C from cellophane. Polyethylene bags could be used to some extent for packing and pasteurization of sauerkraut.
  2. receptacles that are not heat treated during processing of fruit and vegetables, also divided in bags and boxes. Bags are the most used type of packing from plastic materials and they are manufactured from polyethylene or cellophane; an important utilisation is for dried/dehydrated fruits and vegetables.
  3. special packagings - which can be contacted (Criovac type) by action of heat once the finished product is already inside the pack and the air is evacuated.


7.3.3 Laminates

Various flexible materials such as papers, plastic films, and thin metal foils have different properties with respect to water vapour transmission, oxygen permeability, light transmission, burst strength, pin holes and crease hole sensitivity, etc. and so multi-layers or laminates of these materials which combine the best features of each are used.

Commercial laminates containing up to as many as eight different layers are commonly custom designed for a particular product.

Laminations of different materials may be formed by various processes including bonding with a wet adhesive, dry bonding of layers with a thermoplastic adhesive, hot melt laminating where one or both layers exhibit thermoplastic properties, and special extrusion techniques. Such structured plastic films may be complete in themselves or be further bonded to papers or metal foils to produce more complex laminates.

7.4 Glass containers

7.4.1 Introduction

As far as food packaging is concerned, glass is chemically inert, although the usual problems of corrosion and reactivity of metal closures will of course apply. The principal limitation of glass is its susceptibility to breakage, which may be from internal pressure, impact, or thermal shock, all of which can be greatly minimised by proper matching of the container to its intended use and intelligent handling practices. Here consultation with the manufacturer cannot be over-stressed.

The heavier a jar or bottle for a given volume capacity the less likely it is to break from internal pressure. The heavier jar, however, is more susceptible to both thermal shock and impact breakage. Greater thermal shock breakage of the heavier jar is due to wider temperature differences which cause uneven stress between the outer and inner surfaces of the thicker glass. Greater impact breakage susceptibility of the heavier jar is due to the lower resilience of its thicker wall.

Coatings of various types can markedly reduce each of these types of breakage. These coatings, commonly of special waxes and silicones, lubricate the outside of the glass. As a result, impact breakage is lessened by bottles and jars glancing off one another rather than sustaining direct hits when they are in contact in high speed filling lines.

Surface coating after annealing protects glass surfaces from many of the minute scratches appearing in normal handling after annealing ovens; surface coating also improves the high gloss appearance of glass containers and is said to decrease the noise from glass to glass contact at filling lines.

With regard to thermal shock, it is good practice to minimise temperature differences between the inside and outside of glass containers whenever possible. Some manufacturers will recommend that a temperature difference of 44 C (80 F) between the inside and the outside not be exceeded. This requires slow warming of bottles before use for a hot fill and partial cooling before such containers are placed under refrigeration.


7.4.2 Classification

Glass used for receptacles in fruit and vegetable processing is a carefully controlled mixture of sand, soda ash, limestone and other materials made molten by heating to about 1500 C (2800 F).

Main classes of glass receptacles are:

  1. jars which are resistant to heat treatments,
  2. jars, glasses, etc. for products not submitted to heat treatment (marmalades, acidified vegetables, etc.);
  3. glass bottles for pasteurized products (tomato juice, fruit juices, etc.) or not pasteurized (syrups) and
  4. receptacles with higher capacity (flasks, etc.) Jars for sterilised/pasteurized canned products

These receptacles may replace metal cans, taking into considering both the advantages and disadvantages they present. Advantages are: they do not react to food content; they are transparent and can be manufactured in various shapes; they use cheap raw materials and are reusable. Disadvantages: heavier than metal can of same capacity; fragile; lower thermal conductance and a limited resistance to thermal shocks.

Receptacles in this category must assure a perfect hermeticity after their pasteurization/sterilisation and cooling and this has to be achieved by the use of metallic (or glass) caps and specific materials for tightness. Taking into account the receptacles' closure method, there are two categories of receptacles:

  1. glass jars with mechanical closure;
  2. glass jars with pneumatic closure; Jars for products without heat treatment

For marmalades, jellies and jams glass jars with non hermetic closures using metal, glass or rigid plastic caps are used; however for these products the receptacles mentioned above may also be used.

The use of jars with pneumatic closure presents the advantage that some products (e.g. marmalades, jams) can be filled hot and therefore sterile in receptacles. Pneumatic closing generally protects against negative air action which is in this case eliminated from receptacles. Glass bottles

These receptacles are widely used both for

a) finished products which need pasteurization (ea. tomato juice, Knit juices, etc.) and for

b) those which are preserved as such (ea. fruit syrups).

Glass bottles in category a) are closed hermetically with metallic caps, provided with special materials for tightness.

For glass bottles in category b) various corks, and aluminium caps with tightness materials may be used. Glass receptacles with high capacity

In this category there are glass flasks with 3 and 10 litre capacity which can be hermetically closed by a SKO caps system and are resistant to product pasteurization (ea. tomato juice).

As bigger receptacles it is possible to use glass demijohns with usual capacity of 25 and 50 litre; these receptacles are used for preservation of fruit juices by warm process. Closing is performed with flexible rubber hoods.

7.5 Paper packaging

As primary containers few paper products are not treated, coated or laminated to improve their protective properties. Paper from wood pulp and reprocessed waste paper will be bleached and coated or impregnated with such materials as waxes, resins, lacquers, plastics, and laminations of aluminium to improve water vapour and gas impermeability, flexibility, tear resistance, burst strength, wet strength, grease resistance, sealability, appearance, printability, etc.


7.5.1 Paper sheets


7.5.2 Receptacles from paper or cardboard

(paper = 8 to 150 g/m; cardboard = 150 to 450 g/m).

7.6 "Tin can"/tinplate

The "tin can" is a container made of tinplate.

Tinplate, a rigid and impervious material, consists of a thin sheet of low carbon steel coated on both sides with a very thin layer of tin. It can be produced by dipping sheets of mild steel in molten tin (hot-dipped tinplate) or by the electro-deposition of tin on the steel sheet (electrolytic tinplate). With the latter process it is possible to produce tinplate with a heavier coating of tin on one surface than the other (differentially coated).

Tin is not completely resistant to corrosion but its rate of reaction with many food materials is considerably slower than that of steel. The effectiveness of a tin coating depends on:

  1. its thickness which may vary from about 0.5 to 2.0 m (20 to 80 x 10(-6) in.);
  2. the uniformity of this thickness;
  3. the method of applying the tin which today primarily involves electrolytic plating;
  4. the composition of the underlying steel base plate;
  5. the type of food, and
  6. other factors.

Some canned vegetables including tomato products actually owe their characteristics flavours to a small amount of dissolved tin, without which these products would have an unfamiliar taste. On the other hand, where tin reacts unfavourably with a particular food the tin itself may be lacquer coated.

The classes of foods requiring different steels are seen in Table 7.2.

The thickness of tinplate sheets may vary from 0.14 mm to 0.49 mm and is determined by weighing a sheet of known area and calculating the average thickness.

Tinplate sheets may be lacquered after fabrication to provide an internal or external coating to protect the metal surface from corrosion by the atmosphere or through reaction with the can contents. They may also be printed by lithography to provide suitable instructions or information on containers fabricated from tinplate sheets (otherwise paper labels can be attached to the outer tinplate surface).

Under normal conditions the presence of the tin coating provides a considerable degree of electrochemical protection against corrosion, despite the fact that in both types of tinplate the tin coating is discontinuous and minute areas of steel base plate are exposed. With prolonged exposure to humid conditions, however, corrosion may become a serious problem.

Common organic coatings of FDA approved materials and their uses are indicated in Table 7.3.

The coatings not only protect the metal from corrosion by food constituents but also protect the foods from metal contamination, which can produce a host colour and flavour reactions depending upon the specific food. Particularly common are dark coloured sulphides of iron and tin produced in low acid foods that liberate sulphur compounds when heat processed, and bleaching of red plant pigments in contact with unprotected steel, tin, and aluminium.

TABLE 7.3 General types of can coatings

Coating Typical uses Type
Fruit enamel Dark coloured berries, cherries and other fruits requiring protection from metallic salts Oleoresinous
C-enamel Corn, peas and other sulphur-bearing products Oleoresinous w. suspended zinc oxide
Citrus enamel Citrus products and concentrates Modified oleoresinous
Beverage can enamel Vegetable juices; red fruit juices; highly corrosive fruits; non-carbonated beverages Two-coated w. resinous base coat and vinyl top coat

Source: Ellis (1963)

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