Packaging is an important aspect for the food industry because it enables packaged foods to be transported safely over long distances. Packaging plays a role in marketing too because an attractive package appeals and provides information to the consumer. Packaging material used in the food industry is tested for its ability to protect foods, prevent contamination and deterioration in food quality. Packaging must also clearly display all labelling correctly. Food testing laboratories offer consulting and analysis services with regard to the packaging material for all technical as well as labelling regulations criteria.
Food packaging material testing is carried out by chemical and food testing laboratories for a number of reasons. The packaging materials must
- be compatible with the food product, transportation and storage requirements
- protect foods from chemical, physical and biological deterioration
- be suitable for the intended final use of the product
- have the ability to withstand the stress so it won’t degrade or break in the duration of the food’s shelf-life
Testing for migration limits is important packaging material test that food testing laboratories carry out. Migration is the transfer of chemical substances from food contact materials into food. Consumer health can be affected if toxic substances get leached into the foods from packaging material that is in contact with foods. Food testing laboratories test for all substances that can be transferred to the food from the packaging material to ensure that migration of substances is within the limits as established by food regulations. Testing labs use a number of analytical techniques, including toxicological studies to identify the presence of these substances in food products.
Types of packaging material
Packaging material can be flexible like paper, foil, cellophane or plastics or it can be rigid such as glass, cans and plastic containers or semi-rigid like cardboard. Therefore, food testing laboratories use standardised testing methods where conditions like accurate time, temperature and test medium are taken into condition to ensure food safety. For instance testing labs may carry out testing for phthalate which is banned in some countries. Chemical testing laboratories test food contact materials for the presence of phthalates and experienced lab technicians can detect even trace levels of phthalates.
Food Protection Testing
Food packaging must protect foods against deterioration and it must also be able to retain the beneficial effects of processing, retain shelf-life, quality and safety of packaged foods. Testing laboratories test packaging material to ascertain that it offers chemical protection so that there are no compositional changes in the food. Glass and metals provide excellent barrier to chemical contamination. Packaging must also offer biological protection which means that it must offer protection from contamination by microorganisms like pathogens and other spoilage agents and prevent insects, pests or rodents getting entry to the food. Physical protection offers a shield from impacts, breakages and crushing. Physical testing of packaging material is carried out to see that it is capable of warding off the effects of storage, transportation and distribution from the point of manufacture to ultimate purchase.