FOOD & BEVERAGES: MAP Increasingly To The Fore
Recent Western Cape Business News
AIR PRODUCTS says it has made important strides in food safety technology in the last five years.
This is true particularly in the area of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), where Air Products’ Freshline offering brings a complete packaging solution to food manufacturers and suppliers, as well as new standards of safety for the consumer.
“While MAP is not an entirely new concept, the technology has become increasingly sophisticated and more widely used in recent years,” says Arthi Govender, specialty gas sales manager at Air Products. “MAP is well-established overseas, particularly in Europe, but it is relatively new in South Africa,” she says.
“Good looking, fresh, convenient food has become something the consumer demands from the food industry. In the past, MAP was primarily used to prolong the shelf life of foodstuffs such as processed meat under refrigeration. These days, MAP is used to package anything from fresh salads and meat portions, to sandwiches and snacks.”
What exactly is MAP? Govender explains as follows: “In MAP, the gas composition in food packaging is changed by altering levels of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, which inhibits microbial growth, controls reactions of enzymes and bio-chemicals, and reduces moisture loss.”
In simple terms, the composition of the atmosphere surrounding food is modified, according to the type of food, in order to extend the shelf life of the food.
Apart from a longer shelf-life, the benefits of MAP include a better, more appetising appearance of food, an important consideration for both supplier and consumer.
MAP, in the packaging and retail process, is often used in combination with permitted respective preservatives, as the process does not stop the growth of bacteria entirely, just slows it down,” Govender points out.
There is a range of high purity gases, delivered in both liquid and gas form, that are primarily used for the food industry. Carbon dioxide is used widely in MAP, says Govender. “CO2 inhibits the growth of most bacteria and moulds. It is used extensively in the packaging of bakery products.
“Generally speaking, the higher the level of carbon dioxide, the longer the achievable shelf-life,” she says.
Nitrogen, another important element in MAP, is used as an inert gas which displaces air, and in particular oxygen. Nitrogen is mostly used in extending the shelf life of processed fruit and vegetables.
Oxygen causes oxidative deterioration, and moisture needs to be as far as possible reduced or eliminated, as it attracts micro-organisms. Aerobic bacteria thrive in an oxygenated environment, but not only that, bacteria are able to mutate.
The onus is on food companies and manufacturers to put in place safety systems, enhanced by MAP. A good food management system can reduce problems by 99%, it is claimed.
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