In the world of fresh-cut produce, the very way our snacks breathe is crucial to their shelf life. As fresh-cut products breathe in their own unique ways, shelf life is compromised when these ‘breathing’ needs aren’t met. Moreover, when we mix different products together, like in a snack pack, things can get even more challenging because they might all need different conditions to stay fresh. We need packaging solutions that can easily adjust to these needs and are also eco-friendly.
Here’s where innovation steps in. Researchers within the FOX project have been developing sustainable packaging systems for our fruit and vegetable snacks. These new systems consider the quality of the fresh produce and use minimal processing techniques. The process is also very adaptable, working in small, mobile units.
The primary packaging, the one in direct contact with the snacks, is designed to be compostable. It uses polylactic acid (PLA) and rPET, with the latter being sourced from previously used trays. This means that half of the tray material has been recycled! Not just that, the amount of material used to make these trays is optimized, ensuring minimal waste. Even the lids for these trays are recyclable.
But the innovation doesn’t stop there. The secondary packaging, which is the outer layer, incorporates recycled cork. This design is not only recyclable and compostable but also reusable. By tapping into renewable sources for materials, the packaging becomes a model of sustainability.
The manufacturers or distributors have to choose fruits and vegetables thoughtfully, taking into consideration regional varieties and the changing seasons. The quality of the raw materials is essential; they should be undamaged and ripe. When using bags, coatings derived from natural extracts have been shown to work well with PLA. For trays and bowls, breakthrough designs have incorporated rPET, containing 50% recycled content. Also, it’s crucial to find the right number of tiny holes (microperforation) to make in the lids for different product combinations to ensure the snacks remain fresh.
Lastly, the new secondary packaging uses an extrusion compounding process. This process blends PHBV (a microbial biopolymer with excellent biocompatible and biodegradable properties) and granulated postconsumer cork efficiently. Impressively, the cork seamlessly blends with the PHBV material, ensuring durable packaging.
In essence, our fresh snacks now have a fresh approach to packaging. With this, not only do we enjoy prolonged freshness, but we also contribute to a sustainable and greener future.