In food processing, wax paper, parchment paper and plastic film interleaving materials are traditionally placed under bacon, sliced deli meats, cheese or dough products for portion/inventory control and sanitary handling before final packaging. With such placement, processors can also improve ease of preparation, separation, freeze release, shelf life and package presentation.
While interleaving materials are typically viewed as a commodity, material innovation and integration with high-speed interleaving machines can significantly enhance shelf life and food safety across a wide range of industries.
Active packaging is the practice of adding value to packaging materials, usually by improving the safety or freshness of the contained product. One of the most promising uses of active packaging involves using interleave materials to help effectively control secondary microbial exposure, where pathogens may be introduced by contact with a person once a package is opened.
When applied to or formulated in the interleaving material, active and passive microbial inhibitors, for example, can help enhance shelf life and food safety.
Traditional methods involve introducing additives directly to the food product to inhibit microbial growth. However, it can be more expensive when applied directly to the food, and must be included on the label as a food ingredient. This can be a turn-off to health-conscious consumers, who are increasingly looking for clean labels with minimal additives.
In the case of direct surface application of an inhibitor onto a food product, it can be difficult to get even coverage on all sides.
The antimicrobial additive can either be put in the wax that gets impregnated into wax interleave paper, or added and embedded into plastic interleave material when manufactured. When combined with a roll stock interleaving machine, the paper or plastic film can be cut to length off of the roll, allowing for precise metering of the additive and accurate application of the treated substrate in between or around the food portions.
Consumers also get a cleaner label because the microbial inhibitor is part of the packaging and not part of the food product itself.
Targeted pathogen detection
Interleave materials meet the need for detecting certain dangerous pathogens.
To comply with regulation or a large supplier’s demands for safety, for example, “bioactive materials” are applied to interleave material that could indicate the presence of a specific pathogen.
A bioactive material would only activate, perhaps change color, in the presence of a certain pathogen. So, non-activation would mean that the food product is not exposed to the targeted pathogen, and therefore safe in that regard.
Interleave material innovation that will occur in the future may make it possible to quickly and precisely trace a food recall problem to its origin, potentially saving millions of dollars in product waste and bad publicity.
The use of conductive nanoparticle inks will allow RFID tags to be printed directly into the interleave material allowing processors, distributors and operators full and real-time traceability of their products through the entire lifecycle with granularity to the portion/serving level.
This would allow any supply chain to code the antennae when the paper is placed around the portion and then track the portion throughout its lifecycle until the portion is prepared and the paper with the tag passes through a scanner on the trash receptable at the point of sale. When the transaction is complete, inventory is credited and the data potentially feeds back to a blockchain-enabled ledger to reduce supply chain liability exposure.
While food processors are accustomed to traditional manufacturing methods, those that take advantage of advancements in interleaving material technology and integrate these with their systems will significantly increase shelf life, food safety and profitability.