All about Modified Atmospheric Packaging (MAP) and the Importance of Onsite Nitrogen Generators
Nitrogen gas, being inert and dry, makes it the ideal choice for modified atmospheric packaging (MAP) in the food industry. Certain food products that are exposed to oxygen will react to the oxygen which causes the food to spoil faster. Another by-product of oxygen exposure is the development of aerobic microorganisms, which can also cause food to spoil. Microbial spoilage is evident when certain foods like bread begin to develop mould.
Nitrogen is a naturally occurring inert gas that helps offset the effects of oxidization by displacing the oxygen in ambient air when food packaging and preventing it from coming in contact with the food product until the packaging is opened for consumption. Food processing plants that integrate the use of nitrogen generators for MAP are able to greatly extend the shelf life of their products and ensure that they retain optimal freshness without the use of chemical preservatives.
What Is Modified Atmospheric Packaging (MAP)?
In the food and beverage industry, MAP is essentially the process of removing or displacing the oxygen in ambient air when packaging food and replacing it with nitrogen gas or a gas mixture that can consist of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The primary objective is to help packaged food products retain their freshness, taste, texture, appearance, and natural aroma for longer periods of time. The MAP process essentially delays or slows down the process of food spoilage by eliminating oxygen exposure for as long as possible.
It’s typically used when packaging meats, fish, cheeses, chips and other snack foods containing food oils, cookies, coffee, and many other non-refrigerated perishable food items you can find at your local grocery store.
What Are the Different Types of MAP?
There are different types of MAP packaging techniques that can be used depending on the products in question, their journey through the supply chain, and long-term storage conditions.
Gas flushing is the process of inflating food packaging with a neutral gas, most commonly nitrogen, to displace oxygen and drastically slow down the rate at which the product will spoil before the package is sealed. This also reduces the growth of aerobic microorganisms and fills in the packaging to make them all look uniform. Onsite nitrogen generators for food packaging are a convenient and affordable solution to accelerate this process.
One- Way Package Valves
One-way valves are exterior package components that allow certain types of gases to be released from the packaging while preventing external gases like oxygen from making their way in. Primarily used for packaging ground coffee in bags, one-way valves also release air for to make for easy and space-efficient product stackability in warehouses, distribution centers, storage facilities, and on store shelves.
Barrier Packaging Films
Certain packaging films form an effective barrier that’s designed to keep contaminants, biochemicals, and gases out of sealed food packaging. This is known as passive modified atmosphere packaging that’s engineered to facilitate standard MAP applications. Materials that are commonly used to provide a strong interior barrier against moisture and oxygen include low density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinylchloride. Some modern packaging films have the ability to indicate internal temperatures, product quality, leaks, and other factors.
Foods and Beverages for Which MAP Is Highly Effective
MAP is commonly used to preserve the freshness of the following food and beverage products:
- Packaged snack foods (cookies, chips, crackers, nuts, etc.)
- Ground coffee and coffee beans
- Fresh Pasta
Food Shelf-Life Extension Due to MAP
When food is exposed to oxygen, this jump starts the oxidization process. Oxidization causes food to spoil faster. It also leads to an unappealing appearance and texture. For instance, oxidized meat will turn brown and can even develop a rancid off-putting odour. Snack foods will become stale and fats in the snack foods can turn rancid. Reducing or eliminating the amount of oxygen inside a food package ultimately extends its shelf life by keeping the food product fresher for longer periods of time.
This is especially important for foods that are being transported or imported from one location to another as it also prevents contaminants from coming into contact with the food. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, employing proper MAP techniques has become an important standard in the food processing industry.
Why Nitrogen Gas Is Preferred for MAP
Aside from nitrogen, the following gases are also sometimes used for MAP depending on the application:
- Carbon dioxide
Argon and nitrogen are both naturally occurring inert gases that are colorless and tasteless. Argon, however, is expensive to purchase and unlike nitrogen can’t be generated onsite. This means argon is rarely used in MAP except for very special circumstances due to its high cost. Nitrogen is abundant in our atmosphere and is easily supplied by conventional gas suppliers or by nitrogen generators that can produce nitrogen on site for a fraction of the cost of nitrogen supplied by industrial gas suppliers. Installing state-of-the-art onsite nitrogen generating systems for food processing and packaging is a cost-effective solution that many food manufacturers are taking advantage of.
Carbon dioxide can effectively prevent oxidization and aerobic microbial growth on food items however too much carbon dioxide inside packaging can cause the food to go sour and it can easily permeate through packaging barriers or film that are formulated for nitrogen or argon. Therefore typically nitrogen is mixed with carbon dioxide to make an ideal gas mix that’s used primarily for meat and dairy packaging.
Advantages of Onsite Nitrogen Generators for the Food Processing Industry
- Lowest cost supply of nitrogen available for MAP
- Environmentally sustainable
- Increased safety standards
Advanced Gas Technologies Inc. Nitrogen Generators for the Food Packaging Industry
Advanced Gas Technologies Inc. is one of the leading designers and suppliers of state-of-the-art PSA nitrogen generators for the food packaging industry. Onsite nitrogen generators are a cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally sustainable solution for a variety of industrial applications including MAP. Contact us today to learn more about onsite nitrogen generators for MAP and how they can help your food packaging operation cut costs.