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Packaging that improves food safety and prevents waste

It’s an inescapable fact that food packaging has an environmental cost. But it also helps avoid countless deadly outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and mitigate the environmental impact of food waste. This article highlights why well-designed food packaging makes good sense, both from a business and climate perspective.

Why brands should be thinking about food safety

Food safety continues to be an issue all across the globe. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “each year 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated food or beverages and 3,000 die from foodborne illness”1. Another governmental organization, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claims that foodborne illnesses cost the US a staggering $17.6 billion each year2. Few things are as damaging to a brand as being implicated in one of these outbreaks. The average cost to a company for a food recall has been estimated to around $10 Mn in direct costs3, and the costs of damage to consumer confidence and lost future sales can be incalculable.

The role of packaging in protecting different types of food

Food packaging serves two main roles. The first, and most obvious, is that it protects the food. This means keeping it safe from pollutants and bacteria. It also means that it preserves the physical integrity of food products that can be compromised by shocks during transit or distribution, even when it’s properly protected from contaminants. The final protection that packaging offers is to help prevent tampering through the use of features such as tamper-evident labels, special packaging membranes and breakaway closures.

The role of packaging in lowering food waste and climate impact.

The second, but equally important role, of food packaging is that it maintains the freshness of the food for longer and increases its shelf life. As the production and consumption of food causes a third of human climate impact, it’s not surprising that food plays a key role in the UN’s Agenda 20304 with its goal of halving food waste. In fact, based on new data, food waste contributes to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions5. Since this is equivalent to nearly twice the annual emissions produced by all the cars driven in the US and Europe, brands can play a big role here, and strengthen their sustainability credentials in the process by choosing sustainable packaging solutions that make food keep for longer.

The importance of clean, safe, and hygienic materials

Virgin fibers from well-managed resources can be recycled six to seven times with high quality and strength. After that, the fibers can be recycled up to 25 times as less demanding applications such as printer paper and tissue. They form the basis for strong and light packaging solutions, and from a food-safety standpoint, they come with the added benefit of a secure starting point as the origins of the fibers are known. Furthermore, virgin fibers are clean, safe, and hygienic and therefore fulfill all the requirements for food contact packaging. Food brands must also consider the influence of their packaging materials on the contents in terms of taste and smell. Here again, virgin fibers come with an advantage. Consequently, as more and more brands and consumers worry about the misuse of plastics, the number of applications for environmentally friendly food-contact packaging based on virgin fibers is growing by the minute. Applications now include not only traditional, bag and corrugated packaging, but also liquid packaging and flow wrap solutions that employ new and sustainable barrier materials, formable fiber solutions and many, many more.

Read more about Food Safety

The future of food packaging – what is next?

Swedish researchers, backed by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency6, have suggested a range of new packaging features and improvements that facilitate recycling and minimize food waste. These include smaller packaging sizes (that can be used before the food spoils), more easily understood date labels, better portioning advice and easy-to-use re-sealing solutions. They have also concluded that brands need to look closer at the climate impact of the food they are producing and allow this to influence how much packaging material they should use. In other words: it might be justified to use more material for food with a considerable climate impact, if that means food waste is reduced, and thus the product’s total CO2 footprint.

For help with calculating the environmental impact of your current packaging materials, please contact Billerud.

1 https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/cdc-and-food-safety.html
2 https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/cost-estimates-of-foodborne-illnesses/
3 https://www.food-safety.com/articles/2542-recall-the-food-industrys-biggest-threat-to-profitability
4 https://www.globalgoals.org/goals/
5 https://updates.panda.org/driven-to-waste-report
6 https://kau.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1741496/FULLTEXT02.pdf