Evolution of the Packaged Food Industry
Food packaging in present day America plays an important role by making significant contribution to the economy and by providing the necessary protection that the food industry depends on constantly. This industry plays an active role in preserving the quality of food products through their three different but harmonized functionalities. These functionalities include protection, utility and communication in the three separate environments that food exists (Han 6). These environments include the physical, the atmospheric and the human environment. The development of this industry to the complex and mature industry that it is now has been an evolutionary process closely synchronized with the constant changes in the lifestyle of man. In this context, we will examine the evolution of this industry by laying emphasis on different instances in time that had a major influence on the production process and the resources used in the production process.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution is a period that brought with it the early developments in this industry. The early developments included the integration of new processes and new raw materials in the packaging process. This was mainly because of innovative thinking by entrepreneurial minds of the inventors of these times since these new processes and raw materials were initially intended for other purposes. For instance, Nicholas Appert invented the canning process that is widely used in the packaging industry up to now when he was researching on a convenient way to preserve food used by the French army. The metal cans used in this canning process were initially used to preserve snuff because of their ability to retain the moisture in the food product as well as its flavor (Allen 294). Nicholas Appert preferred the canning process as compared to other preservation processes because it allowed for heat processing which was essential in increasing the shelf life of the food provided by the army.
The corrugated boxes widely used today in the shipping industry to hold smaller packages inside a shipping container were also invented during this interesting period. They were developed in the 1850s after the break through in the early 1800s with the paperboard material. This material was first used in the manufacture of folded carton boxes. Plastics were also discovered in the 1800s but their integration into the packaging process had to wait until the 20th century during the World War II when commercialization for food packaging began (Allen 294). Post World War II also saw a significant improvement in the packaging process of the beverage industry. Plastics replaced the corks that were previously used to seal the bottles because they provided a convenient method for closure of food products inside the bottle. Plastic was also convenient because it was not suffer from deterioration due to oxygen.
After the Second World War
After the Second World War, there was an economical shift of the focus on food towards food quality. The various production materials that had been developed during the war were integrated into the packaging process. These developments particularly enabled the food producers to maintain a supply of a wide variety of food products all year round. One significant raw material that was integrated into the packaging process was plastic (Allen 295). Polyethylene particularly became a popular packaging commodity with different variations of the chemical forms ranging from low-density polyethylene (LDPE) to high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The low-density polyethylene was the first to be developed in the year 1933. However, it was until 1957 when the first sandwich plastic bag was used. Further progress was made in 1966 when 25% of the total bread sold in the United States was packaged in low-density polyethylene.
New Packaging Developments
Apart from the developments brought forth by the industrial revolution period and the post world war II, new packaging developments have been made in this industry. The numerous methods of food packaging have led to the rise in new food categories and have completely revolutionized the way producers deliver their finished products for consumption. The canning process nowadays uses tin-platted steel instead of the metal cans initially used in the 1800s. The metal cans were first replaced by aluminum cans in the 1950s before the tin-platted steel came into effect (Han 6). In present day America, aluminum cans are widely used in the preservation of carbonated beverages. Aluminum cans have had a huge influence in the packaging industry especially with the invention of the ring pull, which was first introduced in 1963.
Another packaging technique that was introduced after these two interesting periods in time was the 2-litre plastic beverage bottle manufactured out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The concept behind this innovation was first developed by Pepsi in the year 1970. Moreover, this packaging technique marked the beginning of an era by becoming the first technique in the United States to integrate the use of the metric system in its standardization process. However, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) brings with it challenges because it should provide a separation barrier between the carbon dioxide and the flavoring chemicals while not affecting the purity of the food product with its chemical components (Allen 295). Furthermore, if PET materials are used in small bottles, loss of carbonation through permeation occurs. Smaller bottles are widely used in present day America with a provision for multiple layers or an extra coating to provide the protection needed
The Active Packaging Era
As the industry matured, different types of active packaging processes were developed. One type of the active packaging processes is referred to as the susceptor packaging process. This type of packaging process involves the packaging of food products that are often prepared by the microwave (Han 6). The first packaging bag for microwave popcorn was successfully manufactured in the year 1971. The packaging bag was a simple design. However, it was not until the mid 1980s when a microwave susceptor was officially used in microwave paper bags. This technology is currently used in the packaging of other microwave packaging products like pizza and French fries. Another type of active packaging material is the oxygen absorber material. This material was used by beer companies to absorb the residual oxygen from the surroundings of the beverage (Han 9).
The above are the
different types of innovations that accompanied the evolution of the packaged
food industry. However, other processes that featured in the development of
this industry have not been mentioned provided the length of the essay. Nonetheless,
the evolution of this industry is not yet complete because of the constant
necessities that often provoke invention. There still exist issues that
continue to induce innovation in the industry. A good example is the currently
undergoing research on sustainability of the packaging process materials being
undertaken by the Sustainability Packaging coalition.
Allen, Gary, and Ken Albala. The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2007. Print.
Han, Jung H. Innovations in Food Packaging. San Diego, Calif: Elsevier Academic, 2005. Print.