Nitrogen: The secret to long-lasting, fresh food

Nitrogen: The secret to long-lasting, fresh food

July 8, 2022

So, we have seen how the use of nitrogen in the food industry keep products fresh. Though other gases such as carbon dioxide and argon are sometimes used, nitrogen is top choice on account of its abundance in the atmosphere. The fourth and fifth utility (compressed air and nitrogen) combine to flush out oxygen which is responsible for oxidation and some types of microbial growth. Nitrogen preserves food products in the package and stabilizes seasonings and flavours. In addition, nitrogen is a natural additive and limits dependence on synthetic additives. 

In an ideal set up, the food supplier ‘generates’ nitrogen on-site by separating nitrogen from the air. Through a process called MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging), the gas mix is injected into the package right after the package is filled with the product, and right before the package is sealed. 

Fresh gas, fresh food

Whether for purging, blanketing, or sparging, the purity of nitrogen plays a key role in keeping food fresh. A major point of contaminant entry would be at the point where air is draw in (by the compressor in the nitrogen generator). Filters and dryers keep out various contaminants. For instance, coalescing filters are responsible for removing wet particulate and oil aerosols. Adsorption filters remove oil vapour and sterile filters remove micro-organisms and solid particulates. 

Testing for purity

Testing for gas purity is important across all stages of the food process, including preservation, transportation and quality management. Testing is required at multiple points to detect and narrow down on factors and areas leading to deterioration in gas quality. Testing for microbial growth is particularly important. This is because while nitrogen flushing prevents the growth of aerobic bacteria, it has no effect on anaerobic bacteria (which do not need oxygen to grow; examples include E. coli and Listeria) and in recent times, the latter has been responsible for some well-publicised food recalls. The use of nitrogen is tied in to testing for its purity.   

So, what equipment does the food industry use to check quality? Gas mixers and metering systems are used to ensure that safety and quality is maintained for an extended shelf-life and a germ-free environment, even as it offers flexibility in varying the gas mix according to requirement. Gas analysers are used along with these systems to monitor composition of the gas mix. 

The role of packaging

It must be noted that MAP alone does not ensure the freshness and purity of the packaged food. The quality of the basic ingredients, their formulation and processing play a big role, as does general standards of hygiene and sometimes, storage temperature. The type of packaging also ensures ensuring the freshness of food packaged with the use of nitrogen.  The selection of barrier materials is decided by the gases used, the product, and the nature of the pack (rigidity, sealing options, mechanical strength, airtightness and ability to keep out vapour/steam).  From compressors to dryers, filters, and cutting-edge monitoring systems, Pneumatech specializes in solutions for most critical applications, such as the food industry, where air purity is a fundamental requirement. Pneumatech offers: 

Pure protection: The right level of purity to continually protect your processes, products, and reputation. 

Pure productivity: Exceptional durability and qualified support to keep pace with your production, achieving the highest levels of efficiency. 

Pure profitability: The lowest power consumption with the lowest product life cycle cost for your compressed air applications. 

If you are looking to set up your food operations or to step up you existing operations in a manner that is both economical and compliant to high standards of hygiene and purity, explore Pneumatech’s range of products. Or get in touch with us right away. 

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Gas Generators

On-site nitrogen can be generated by PSA and by membrane technology