Modified atmosphere packaging – the key to fresh food

Fresh strawberries

Do you want to keep packaged food fresh longer? No problem. All you have to do is follow a map. Or, to be more precise, a MAP: Modified Atmosphere Packaging.

MAP is a process that the food industry relies on to keep packaged goods fresh. It replaces the ambient air in packaging with a mix largely consisting of nitrogen. Why? The reason is simple and involves the makeup of the air that surrounds us.

It mainly consists of nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%). That’s a perfect mix for breathing but not ideal for keeping food from spoiling. To understand why, we have to first look at some of the properties of these two essential gases.

Oxygen is a highly reactive gas. As the name indicates, that means it reacts with other molecules and forms new chemical connections. While this is great for some chemical processes, such as starting fires, it isn’t good for food. Here, oxidization can cause great damage and spur the growth of microorganisms.

Nitrogen, on the other hand, is an inert gas. This means it prevents chemical reactions from taking place because it reacts poorly with other molecules. So, while oxygen is required for fire, nitrogen puts it out. For the same reason, oxygen helps spoil food and nitrogen helps preserve it.

How does modified atmosphere packaging work?

Fresh meat

That leaves one question: How do you make sure your food doesn’t come into contact with oxygen? The answer is modified atmosphere packaging.

In this process, as soon as the food is placed in the container, the ambient air surrounding it is expelled. At the same time, it is replaced with a gas mix consisting largely of nitrogen.

While other gases are used for purging the ambient air, such as carbon dioxide and argon, nitrogen is the gas of choice. That’s because it isn't just inert but also odorless and colorless. This is crucial because any gas used for MAP comes into contact with food and has to be safe.

And that might be the greatest benefit of nitrogen. With a generator on site, you can produce an abundance of food-grade nitrogen. This ensures that you always have a supply for your food packaging needs.

That nitrogen can also be used for inerting, pressurizing, purging, blanketing and sparging – all processes required to keep food fresh. 

On-site nitrogen generation

While you could get the necessary nitrogen by having it delivered, generating your own has many benefits. Let’s take a look.

First, on-site nitrogen generation costs much less. Sure, there is the initial investment in a generator and an accompanying compressor. However, the cost of a cubic meter of nitrogen generated on your own is significantly lower than that of purchasing nitrogen in bottles. There is also no need for rental fees.

While MAP requires food-grade nitrogen, the nitrogen delivered in bottles is of an unnecessarily high purity. A generator allows you to produce exactly the purity you need, which saves energy.

Another advantage is that a generator eliminates various logistical challenge, such as ordering, storing and replacing the nitrogen bottles. In addition, a generator takes up less space than a storage facility.

On-site generation also benefits your staff because it eliminates the safety hazard that nitrogen bottles pose.

And being able to produce as much nitrogen you need for MAP at any time means you won't experience any supply bottlenecks. That includes the ability of being able to easily scale up your operation at any time when you expand your business.

The right compressor for modified atmosphere packaging

The last “ingredient” in this recipe for food-grade nitrogen is quality compressed air. Because the nitrogen you generate is only as good as the air you use to produce it. That not just requires a compressor but also the right air treatment equipment like dryers and filters.

You want to make sure that you can eliminate any of the contaminants that spoil the food. These include moisture, oil residue and small particles. 

All you need from a single source

A generator, a compressor, air treatment,... modified atmosphere packaging does require an entire system. The good news is that you can get everything you need from Pneumatech.

Whether you need to keep your potato chips crispy, or prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, we can take care of you.

To get started, just reach out to Pneumatech for a consultation. Our experts will advise you on how we can help you keep your food fresh and your customers happy. 

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