If you are buying chicken at Costco then you are faced with two options: bigger bag or smaller bag for the same price. Sounds like an easy decision, right? Not so fast, the smaller bag isn’t that much smaller and all of the chicken breast are individually wrapped in vacuum pouches. This means that the chicken will last longer, you don’t have to worry about them freezing to each other and having to take out more than you need because they’re stuck together. Most people are willing to pay for the convenience.
Consumers and other people are always looking for new ways to extend the shelf life of food. Back in the day they would cure meat with salt or sugar and can vegetables through heat processing. There have been two main ways that this is done now. The first is through vacuum pouches and the other is modified atmosphere packaging. These two techniques are known as the safest way to make food last longer. Let’s look at a little deeper into vacuum pouches and modified atmosphere packaging.
Vacuum packaging is when the food is placed in the pouch and then the rest of the air is literally vacuumed out. This extends the shelf life of the food because it doesn’t allow oxidation or microbial growth to enter. The films that are used in vacuum packaging are thick, high barrier films and they restrict gas being able to enter as well.
Printed shrink sleeves or shrink bags are often used on vacuum bags because they can tightly fit the item. Vacuum pouches are also used to store clothing and bedding but for the purpose of this article we will stick to food distribution.
When the food is fragile or could be crushed by the vacuum packing process, that is when modified atmosphere packaging is implemented. For example, potato chips would be completely demolished in a vacuum pack so instead the oxygen is replaced with nitrogen.
Modified Atmosphere Packaging
This is when the vacant area of the pouch, above the food, is flushed with gases. The type of gases that are used are what help to prolong the life of the food item. This allows the distributors to be able to provide food that is still fresh to their sellers. It is a lot more convenient and requires less labor than traditional methods.
The most common place that you have probably seen modified atmosphere packaging use is in things such as ready to use vegetables, pre-cut salad greens or mushrooms and packages of things like celery, carrots and broccoli that come with dips. Any kind of combination food like cheese and crackers or sandwiches are usually sold in modified atmosphere packaging.
The amount of time that is added to a food item because of these food packaging containers differs by item. Beef usually lasts it up to six weeks if it is refrigerated and even longer when frozen. Even if you were just putting things in the refrigerator like cheese, it can make it last a lot longer. Cheese, for example usually only lasts 2 to 4 weeks in a regular bag but once it is vacuum packed it can last four to eight months. Even items that are not refrigerated or frozen will last longer. Cookies can last up to six weeks, coffee up to two years, cereal up to one year, and flour and nuts up to two years.
By locking out the air and sealing in the freshness of food people can save a lot of money because they don’t have to grocery shop is often and they can also save time. Consumers want to spend less money and have better food. It’s the whole idea of have your cake and eat it too. Think about mothers of small children who dread grocery store trips or caretakers looking after disabled love ones who have to find a sitter whenever they go out or others who find it difficult to leave the house; these kinds of people would rather pay a little bit more in one shopping trip so they don’t have to come back soon. And if it works out cheaper in the long run then that’s even better.