Pack4Food studies optimum barrier properties

17 April 2017

In October 2015, Pack4Food launched the joint research project OptiBarrier, which researches the optimal barrier properties for food packaging. The focus is on both flexible and rigid plastic packaging (including IML) and paper and cardboard packaging, as well as combinations of different materials (such as plastic and aluminium). The study will continue until September 2019. Peter Ragaert, one of the three project managers from Pack4Food, gives more information about the project.

What is Pack4Food?
Pack4Food is a consortium of Flemish research centres and over 40 companies within the broad sector of food packaging. P4F aims to stimulate innovation in food packaging and assists companies that are facing packaging challenges.

What research questions does OptiBarrier aim to answer?
OptiBarrier combines three research projects with the main research question: overpacking vs. underpacking and this for gas, light and functional barriers. An overview:

  1. The role of packaging as a gas barrier
    Food products are often packaged under a modified atmosphere (MAP). However the barrier is often too big or too small for the desired preservability. That is why we are analysing the gas barrier in monolayer vs. multilayer materials, varying the thickness and composition of the barrier layers and testing the effect of different storage temperatures. OptiBarrier uses real food products in its tests, including cooked ham, cheese and ready-to-eat meals. This makes it possible for the participating companies to implement the results immediately.
  2. The role of packaging as a light barrier
    Many food products are susceptible to light, especially if their packaging contains residual oxygen. Think of liver paste, cooked ham, mashed potatoes, sauce, etc. We are analysing the effect on the food quality of the nature (UV - visible) and intensity of that light and the type of packaging material . As a part of this, we are focusing on the interaction between the dynamic O2 concentration and nature/intensity of the light. This will allow us to offer companies the best packaging concepts possible in order to avoid discolouration and oxidation.
  3. The role of a functional barrier against migration from the packaging
    Paper and cardboard can contain mineral oils. Other components can also migrate from things like ink.
    We are identifying the most important migrating components and the efficiency of the various barrier layers and coatings. We will use the results to develop and evaluate efficient barrier strategies.

What will be done with the research results?
The participating companies will be given the opportunity to test the research results on an industrial level. We will also examine which follow-up projects could be launched by Pack4Food. Non-participating companies will also have the opportunity to attend workshops and training courses  by the end of the project. We will also announce the results through various publications in close and intensive collaboration with the participating research centres and companies.

The role of Verstraete IML in OptiBarrier
As part of its strategy, Verstraete IML aims to expand its knowledge (and that of Constantia Flexibles) through contact with research centres, manufacturers of other packaging techniques and food manufacturers. “OptiBarrier seemed like the perfect forum for us to achieve this,” says Hans Huyghe, Development Manager. Verstraete IML is not only taking part in Pack4Food training sessions, but is organising them as well.
Nico Van de Walle, Product Innovation Manager at Verstraete IML, explains the role of Verstraete IML in OptiBarrier: “We want to offer Barrier IML based on scientific evidence. That is why we are providing Barrier IML research material for the OptiBarrier project. We expect OptiBarrier to answer questions like:
- Is Barrier IML a suitable alternative to glass and, if so, for which food products?
- Does LED lighting in supermarkets increase the concentration of the UV light component in packaging? How does this affect product shelf life and how can we adapt the IML label to this?