Protecting meat from the threats of spoilage has been an age long concern. There are many challenges in keeping meat fresh for as long as possible. From using preservatives to using appropriate packaging, the technological developments continue to push the shelf life of meat further.
Oxygen is one of the biggest threats for fresh meat. It can cause flavor deterioration, lead to discoloration, and ultimately encourage bacterial growth. High barrier packaging that properly controls oxygen and moisture transmission can significantly reduce these side effects, without the use of artificial additives.
LEGS OF LAMB PACKAGED IN V-SHAPED FORMAT PREMIUMMAX
Certain obstacles remain a threat even to the highest of barrier packaging, especially when meat contains sharp bone. The menacing bone can be a continuous headache for meat producers as it likes to stick out in different directions threatening to cause the unwanted packaging puncture. Packaging and material producers have come up with diverse ways of dealing with this problem ranging from wrapping the bone with polyester bone guard to laminating additional material to the high barrier shrink bag itself. Unfortunately, when it comes to consumer ready packaging attractiveness, these options are far from optimal.
MEAT WITH BONE PACKAGED IN PREMIUMMAX (LEFT) COMPARED TO BEING PACKED IN SHRINK BAG WITH BONE GUARD (RIGHT)
Fortunately there has been major advancements in high barrier shrink material. The Austrian company, PREMIUMPACK, has led the way in this development with its PREMIUMmax material. With the recent development of its 9-layer technology, it has formulated a high barrier structure that uses multiple layers of puncture resistant Polyamid (PA) at optimal thicknesses that allows the material to form around the meat and bone without being compromised by the bones strength or sharpness. This new structure formulation added to PREMIUMPACK’s use of extreme oxygen preventive Ethylene-Vinyl Alcohol (EVOH) for its industry leading shelf life protection.
These advancements have been welcoming improvements to the meat industry to an industry dominated by the extra use of bone coverings. When packaging larger pieces of meat with a series of sharp bones, including beef ribs, the extra process of wrapping a waxy bone guard material around the bone before inserting the piece of meat into a vacuum bag or high barrier shrink bag was required. This not only created extra costs and logistics at the buying level, but also added valuable time to the packaging process. Additionally, the appearance at the consumer level is detracted as the packaging transparency is compromised. Fresh meat is purchased at retail level based on its fresh appearance, and hiding this will only deter from the consumer’s perception.
The method of laminating a thick layer of PA to anormal boneless meat shrink bag was a step in the right direction, but also proved far from optimal. The laminated surface reduced the shrinkability of the high barrier shrink bag while exposing the edges of the shrink bag where the laminated surface did not reach. As the placement of bones in meat is somewhat unpredictable, the lack of total bag surface protection from the laminated material would result in unwanted punctures, therefore letting air into a bag that is meant to prevent its very presence.
Other common methods of bone protection in shrink bags can be seen in the lamb industry. The very high valued lamb leg is packaged in high barrier shrink bags using rigid plastic shank caps to protect the packaging from the sharp leg bone. Like the previously mentioned bone guard material, this only adds to immediate costs, purchasing logistics, and process times. This year PREMIUMPACK addressed this issue by creating a V-shaped format of its PREMIUMmax high barrier and high puncture resistant shrink bag. This particular bag not only eliminated the need for the additional shank cap product, but forms perfectly around the oddly shaped bone-in meat.
Addressing shelf life concerns through packaging advancements is a great way meat processors can manage shelf-life issues with new ways of thinking about profitability, efficiency and consumer trends. Emerging packaging technologies present key benefits for processors, retailers and the consumer. Processors are able to preserve the quality of the meat and extend shelf life, retailers benefit from fewer product markdowns and minimal waste, and consumers benefit from a more appealing product and a longer consumption period.