Smart packaging technology, optimal production and supply chain design as strategies for reducing quality loss in chilled products like meat, fish and cheese.
Retailers and manufacturers are always looking to extend the shelf life of products. Just a few days’ more durability can translate into significant economic benefits. Shelf life depends on several factors, such as initial quality, supply chain conditions, packaging materials and technology. Interaction between these factors ultimately determines the quality of the chilled products. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has the knowledge and experience to develop new packaging strategies and advise which strategy best fits a given product. An important part of this is sustainability. Research shows that consumers see packaging as a burden on the environment. The choice of a sustainable packaging solution can therefore enhance the green image of a brand and company.
Fresh products quickly decrease in quality
The processes which cause fresh products such as meat and fish to decrease in quality are fast and complex, and depend on a number of variables. For meat and fish, the crucial aspects are the growth of microorganisms and changes in colour and appearance. This makes the control of temperature and oxygen within the packaging essential. Carbon dioxide (in some cases combined with oxygen), on the other hand, can be a key to maintaining quality. Recent research by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research allowed the shelf life of fish to be extended by creating optimal gas conditions within the packaging. Colour changes depend not only on oxygen levels, but also of the amount and type of light to which the product is exposed. We have shown that unwanted discoloration can be minimised with the proper combination of oxygen, light intensity, light wavelength, temperature and production process.
Quality of cheese products
The decrease in quality of cheese products is a complex process. The shelf life of soft cheese types, such as soft ripened cheeses, is highly dependent on the development of mould on the surface of the cheese. In previous studies, we found that mould growth can be controlled by achieving the right gas composition in the packaging. This allows quality to be maintained.
The challenges are different In the case of hard cheeses: Factors such as dehydration, loss of mass, fat oxidation and unwanted mould growth are important limitations to shelf life. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has developed a coating concept which causes less crust formation than natural maturation and results in a higher yield. In addition the coating will keep external oxygen out, reducing the risk of unwanted mould.