Regulate moisture to ensure storage stability of packaged foods

PDChina (Packaging Expo) recently interviewed John Solomon, Global Head of Food Markets at Multisorb Technologies in the US, to discuss how moisture regulation can help maintain the storage stability and product quality of packaged foods.

PDChina: Why is moisture regulation important for packaged foods?

John Solomon: By regulating the level of humidity in the food packaging environment, it can limit the degradation of moisture (such as microbial spoilage) and preserve the appearance and taste of the food, thereby extending the shelf life of the product and protecting the brand's reputation.

PDChina: What is the principle of moisture regulation technology?

JohnSolomon: As the name suggests, moisture regulation technology removes or absorbs moisture as needed to maintain humidity at an ideal level to achieve equilibrium relative humidity (ERH). Maintaining an ERH condition prevents moisture from shifting between the product and the packaging environment, thereby preventing excessive or too low humidity. Too high or low humidity can adversely affect product quality.

For some foods, it is desirable to keep ERH at an intermediate level, which helps the product absorb a limited amount of water. For baked goods such as cakes or biscuits, a certain level of humidity helps maintain shape and "mouthfeel." In this case, the moisture management technique uses a package containing a predetermined amount of moisture, which is tailored to meet the specific needs of the packaged food. Depending on the conditions affecting the packaging environment, packaged foods will vent and re-absorb moisture over time.

PDChina: What benefits can moisture regulation technology bring to food manufacturers to transport or store products under adverse environmental conditions?

JohnSolomon: For example, in a long distribution chain, packaging can be stored and transported in climatic conditions where temperature and humidity are constantly changing. As the temperature increases or decreases, the volume and characteristics of the air within the package also increase or decrease to preserve moisture. Too much moisture or dryness in the packaging environment can damage the integrity of the product, causing the product to become odorous or damp.

By absorbing or venting moisture, moisture regulation technology can address temperature fluctuations, thereby stabilizing the total amount of moisture in the package to a predetermined level. Essentially, it acts as a buffer to absorb or remove moisture within specified limits, maintaining product stability regardless of changes in temperature and other environmental variables.

PDChina: What kind of food is the water control technology usually used for?

John Solomon: Moisture control technology is commonly used in a variety of foods, including baked goods, dried and dried fruits, and certain types of candy (such as butter marzipan and caramel). This technology regulates humidity to the optimum relative humidity (RH) according to the requirements of different foods. For example, baked goods typically require an optimum RH of 80-90% because they are quite moist. On the other hand, drying products such as beef jerks require an optimum RH of between 65 and 75%. To develop a suitable moisture control solution, in addition to considering the optimal RH level, packaging materials and forms must also be considered. This solution can vary significantly from product to product because each food has a unique set of characteristics that must be maintained, while also considering the quality of protection for each form of packaging.

Another important factor to note is that depending on the application, moisture regulation techniques can be set up to address other environmental issues. For example, when combined with an oxygen scavenger, moisture and oxidative degradation can be prevented. Multisorb recommends this strategy for foods such as the US Army's ready-to-eat rations (MRE), which degrade by exposure to moisture and oxygen. In some applications, moisture management techniques can also be used in conjunction with activated carbon to control volatiles that may produce odors.

Q: How to use moisture control technology in packaging applications?

John Solomon: Moisture control technology can be applied in a range of customized product forms. Depending on the type of food and packaging design, sachets, cans, compressed tablets, large bags or self-adhesive label bags are recommended. No matter how much water they retain, they have a dry feel and maintain their structural shape. The versatile design portfolio has the added advantage of being easy to insert new packaging lines and integrating directly into existing packaging systems.

Water regulation in packaged organic foods

According to a report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (an industry consulting firm), the global organic food and beverage market is expected to exceed $86 billion by 2009. In recent years, with the health awareness of consumers in more developed countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, the demand for organic products has also increased.

In general, Asia Pacific is the fastest growing organic market in the world, leading the global trend with a growth rate of 28%. More importantly, China has quickly taken the lead in organic production, which currently accounts for 85% of organic production in the region.

To accommodate this growth and increased demand, organic food producers in Asia are expanding their production capacity to meet stable growth in market demand. In addition to local and regional markets, manufacturers also use the favorable European market to support their export capabilities. Despite this, organic manufacturers face greater risks of food rot in transit due to expanding markets and increasingly extended distribution chains. Because many conventional preservation methods are prohibited in the use of organically certified foods, food manufacturers face the challenge of not using artificial preservatives, chemical additives or flavor enhancers in longer distance transportation requirements.

The main cause of decay of organic foods is the degradation of microorganisms produced by oxidation, which is one of the main threats to the color and flavor of foods. Oxidation occurs when oxygen and moisture are present in the packaging environment. Moisture oxidation will deteriorate the food over time and shorten the shelf life of the product. For example, increasing the use of citrus and flavor oils poses particular problems for organic food manufacturers because oxidation can adversely affect the taste of foods, including natural seasonings.

Since food color is the main influencing factor for customers to make their first purchase decision, and taste can affect repeated purchases in the future, the preservation strategy aiming at oxidative degradation is indispensable. Based on this understanding, a holistic water regulation method that includes oxygen absorbing capacity is the most promising solution for organic foods. It not only meets the needs of an extended distribution chain, but also maintains the freshness and color of the product.

Resume of JohnF. Solomon:

JohnF. Solomon is responsible for providing the most cost-effective solution to the complex packaging problems of the specialty food industry. For the past eight years, Solomon has worked on the Board of Directors of the R&D Association and is responsible for coordinating all food development and production for the US Combat Feeding Program. Solomon is part of the International Association of Food Technology Experts and the Society of Packaging Professionals.

About Multisorb Technologies

For more than 40 years, Multisorb Technologies has been an innovative company in the field of adsorbent technology. Founded in 1961 by John S. Cullen, Multisorb is designed to protect products from moisture damage. Multisorb is currently the largest manufacturer of packaged and fabricated sorbents in North America and a leader in active packaging ingredients.

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