Home » FSS ACT » What role does food packaging play in the food supply chain?

What role does food packaging play in the food supply chain?

What role does food packaging play in the food supply chain?

What role does food packaging play in the food supply chain?

According to an article on food ‘Hypotheses in Food Science’ by Kenneth Marsh Ph. D and Betty Bugusu Ph.D. “the role of packaging is that it“maintains the benefits of food processing after the process is complete, enabling foods to travel safely for long distances from their point of origin and still be wholesome at the time of consumption.”

Historically, the earliest packaging was made of natural materials like basket of reeds, wineskins, wooden boxes, pottery vases, ceramic amphorae, wooden barrels, woven bags, etc. As packaging developed glass and bronze vessels were used and in the 19th century iron and tin cans were formulated. Later paperboard cartons and corrugated fibreboard boxes were introduced. Food safety further improved when Bakelite bottle closures, transparent cellophane overwraps and panels on cartons were made. In the 20th century materials like aluminium, plastics were developed for packing which improved functionality even further.

Today packaging is considered as scientific as food processing, neither is complete without the other. Therefore packaging is a technology that is used to protect food products during distribution, storage, sale, and use. That is not all in packaging is also the designing, evaluation and production of packages and materials used for packaging. Today packaging defined as something that “contains, protects, preserves, transports, informs, and sells”. In simple words packaging makes it possible to maintain the benefits of food processing. It enables foods to travel long distances from the point of origin and the packaging ensures that the food can still be consumed safely.

Role of packaging

  • Physical packaging is used to enclose objects in the package as they could require protection from, shock, vibration, compression, temperature, etc.
  • Barrier protection or protection against chemical changes is required from environmental factors like gases – oxygen, water vapour, dust, etc. and so permeation is an important factor in designing packaging. Its main function must be to keep the contents clean, fresh, sterile and safe for the intended shelf life. Glass or metal provide complete chemical protection.
  • Biological protection provides a barrier to microorganisms, insects, rodents, and other animals, thereby preventing disease and spoilage.
  • Containment is another factor because liquids, powders, and granular materials need to be contained. Sometimes smaller packets are placed in larger cartons as that is easier to handle.
  • Information on the packages and labels provide a necessary communication. It is used to communicate how to use, transport, recycle, or dispose of the package or product. Pharmaceuticals, food, medical, and chemical products need to have information as laid down by the government. Some packages and labels also are used for track and trace purposes.
  • The packaging and labels are used by marketers to sell the product. Since it is a marketing tool the package graphic design and physical design are important factors that continue to evolve. The package may be designed to enhance the product image or distinguish it from similar product.
  • Packaging plays an important role in reducing the risks of shipment. For security purposes they can also be made tamper proof or provide signs that indicate tampering. Packages may include authentication seals and use security printing to help indicate that the package and contents are not counterfeit. Packages might also have anti-theft devices, such as dye-packs, RFID tags, or electronic article surveillance tags that can be activated or detected by devices at exit points and require specialized tools to deactivate as this prevents loss.
  • Convenience packages make it easy to distribute, handle, stack, display sale, open and reclose, use, dispense and reuse.
  • Portion control packaging is used to make it easy for single serving or single dosage. Bulk commodities like salt are divided into useable packet sizes. This also helps to control inventory like selling milk from litre packaging rather than getting your own vessels when purchasing milk.
  • Packaging also provides information for consumes as required by regulations for product identification, nutritional value, ingredient declaration, net weight, cooking instructions and pricing.
  • With transport packages, standardised symbols or pictorial depictions are used to communicate handling needs.

Packaging type

Packaging can be made for transport or distribution package meant for shipping, storing, and handling the product or inner packages. A consumer package is one that is meant for the consumer or household. Packaging is also described in relation to the type of product being packaged like for medical device packaging, bulk chemical packaging, over-the-counter drug packaging, retail food packaging, military materiel packaging, pharmaceutical packaging, etc.

  • Primary packaging is the material that is in contact with the food. It is the smallest unit of distribution
  • Secondary packaging is used outside the primary packaging and is used to group together several small primary packages.
  • Tertiary packaging is used for bulk handling, warehouse storage and transport shipping.

Food Packaging Materials and chemical contamination

Food packaging is used to protect foods but it can also be a source of chemical contamination. The material that is in direct contact with the foodstuff is called “food contact material”. Various types of food contact materials are used and each can have different properties. The term food contact material normally applies to food and beverage packaging but any material that comes into contact with food, either during storage, processing and filling, or consumption like cooking utensils can also release chemicals into food. In order to ensure that the packaging material is safe it should be

  • analysed for chemical composition
  • the level at which these chemical compounds can get released into the food must be understood

Other important packaging considerations

Packaging technology must not only ensure food is protected and safe but must also take into consideration energy and material cost. Social and environmental consideration is another issue that has now become important especially with regard to disposal. Packaging regulations against pollution and their disposal as solid waste is another factor impacting packaging material.


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