At 78%, nitrogen is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere. Unlike oxygen which is over-reactive, nitrogen is inert. This makes it excellent for flushing into packaged products like processed foods and beverages that need to stay fresh and shelf-stable. While here we focus on nitrogen in food packaging, it isn’t just about preserving the freshness of packaged food products. In some cases, as is the case of nitro brews, it plays a role in boosting flavours and altering product quality. Dessert products also use nitrogen to improve texture and bulk. When it comes to winemaking, it is used in several stages of the process: pressurization, inerting, assembly, filtration, to name a few.
Of course, the applications of nitrogen extend beyond the F&B industry; it plays an important role in the oil & gas industry, the electronics industry, in metal treatment, and in laser-cutting applications, to name a few.
However, given the current time and the increasing demand for and importance of contaminant-free, shelf-stable packaged foods, a focus on applications in the F&B industry are worth exploring. Incidentally, while we’re considering nitrogen in food packaging, nitrogen is critical in the packaging of pharmaceutical products as well, where product stability is paramount.
Advantages in food packaging/ the food industry
It ‘flushes out’ oxygen which plays a big role in food spoilage. Oxygen causes oxidation and also encourages the growth of certain bacteria.
It stabilizes flavours and seasonings, by eliminating oxidization.
It is a superior alternative to vacuum packaging for delicate products like chips, cookies, biscuits, and similar baked/fried products. It cushions the contents.
It is a non-chemical food preservative.
It is gaining popularity over chemical alternatives, in the de-infestation of fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains held in stock.
Nitrogen’s food industry applications extend to: head space replacement in cans/tanks, purging of large containers, sparging of cooking oils, pressure transfer of powders and liquids, among others.
How nitrogen is added and how it is supplied
Typically, manufacturers use a generic VFFS machine that uses Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) to add nitrogen to chip bags, for example. More on MAP in the next post. But how exactly does a manufacturer get a hold of nitrogen for all of this? Given that nitrogen is already freely available in the air around us, nitrogen generators don’t really have to generate gas at all. The challenge is to isolate nitrogen from the other gases in the air. Compressor-based nitrogen generators achieve this separation through methods such as pressure swing adsorption (PSA) or membrane nitrogen generation. To know more about exactly which type of nitrogen generator you would need, check this post.
Why you should rely on onsite nitrogen generation
Many units that use nitrogen in their applications buy it in high-pressure bottles or lease nitrogen tanks. But a few have quickly seen the benefits of generating their own nitrogen on-site.
The advantages are clear:
• No wait-time: It ensures nitrogen supply is always ready for your needs.
• Safety: It cuts the risks associated with moving high-pressure cylinders.
• Purity for purpose: It gives you total control over the purity of the nitrogen produced.
• Lower cost: Operating costs are low and the investment pays off quickly.
Do you depend on third-party supply of nitrogen in food packaging? Are you ready for onsite nitrogen generation? Pneumatech makes it possible for you to produce all the nitrogen you need in-house with nitrogen generators that use Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) technology and membrane technology.