During the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, it is helpful to know which food items sold at the store are packaged for longevity. Food preservation is achieved by either killing or slowing down the growth of microorganisms like bacteria and mold, by applying heat, drying, refrigerating or freezing, reducing of pH, controlling oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and the removal of nutrients needed for growth.
The method in which food is packaged to be sold at stores plays a vital role in the preservation of food. Long before food was sold at stores, humans have tried to better preserve food hunted, gathered, or farmed. It is part of us. It is paramount for survival. An example of early methods of food preservation includes laying fruits and meats out to dry on a windy day in the heat of the sun. This sun drying method helped reduce the amount of water in the food. Since microorganisms thrive in moist environments, the reduction of moisture in food helped to preserve the food longer.
Many other methods have been used throughout history like salting, making jams and jellies, pickling, fermenting, and smoking, among others. But one thing became evident, the better methods of food preservation, share one thing in common; they used some kind of package or container to preserve food. When it comes to food packaging, the most efficient materials known to humankind are metals, glass, and plastic. Food packaging has come a long way from crude containers or animal skins. Today’s modern food packaging prevents the deterioration of food items by protecting against; contamination, spoilage, pest attacks, and tampering. Considering this, here are 5 items with a long shelf life to buy during the coronavirus quarantine.
1. Canned Tuna
Food items like tuna, Vienna sausages, beans, fruits and vegetables, and applesauce are very popular canned products. Canned products have the advantage of lasting a long time thanks to the canning process. The canning process preserves food by heating the food and then sealing it in airtight containers like glass jars, metal steel cans, or plastic jars. When the food is heated, the microorganisms responsible for spoilage and decay are killed, and a vacuum is created. This helps preserve the food from deterioration by preventing oxidation.
The modern canning process can be traced backed to the early 1800s when, as a response to the French government award of 12,000 francs for the development of a better method of food preservation for Napoleon’s army, a French confectioner and chef Nicolas Appert figured out that food could be preserved for a long time by placing cooked food in glass jars, sealing them with cork, and putting the jars in boiling water. He won the prize. The canning method was later improved by Englishman Peter Durand, who was able to seal food in metal tin cans, receiving the first patent on tin canning. He sold his canned foods to the Royal Navy. Throughout the years, the primary process for canning food has remained mostly the same, and canned products continue to pack a full nutritional punch that lasts a long time. Besides, today’s canned goods include a plastic lining that creates a barrier between food and the metal can.
Other foods that benefit from innovating packaging processes are hard-packed sausages like chorizo, kielbasa, and soppressata. Two popular ways of preserving sausages are thermoforming and vacuum skin packaging. Both methods reduce the effect of oxygen, but they go about it differently. Thermoforming is the process of molding a plastic or foam tray into the desired shape by applying heat to it and pressing it against the mold. The food is then placed in the tray, and an airtight cover is applied to the top. The air inside the container is altered or modified to an ideal balance for the food being packaged. This form of packaging is called Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP).
The beginning of MAP goes back to as early as 1821 when Frenchman Jacques Etienne Bernard recognized “that harvested fruits utilize O2 and give off CO2 and that fruits placed in an atmosphere deprived of O2 did not ripen as rapidly.” [Gordon L. Robertson (2006). Food packaging. CRC Press. p. 314. ISBN 0-8493-3775-5].
The ability to control the type of atmosphere that the food is packaged in is crucial for the MAP method. The other popular form of packaging sausages is vacuum skin packaging. Where sausages are vacuum-sealed in a plastic film that covers the entire surface of the sausage, creating a skin upon skin. This protects the sausages from oxidation and proliferation of bacteria.
Cereals, along with their bag-in-box packaging, are another example of MAP. In their case, the recommended gas mixture is 100% nitrogen. The nitrogen not only helps preserve the cereal from oxidation but also protects it by providing cushioning. The box itself gives some protection against heat, moisture, and microorganisms.
4. Potato Chips
Similarly, potato chips benefit from the same packaging method. Chips are an excellent snack choice to have during the COVID-19 quarantine. After all, they are one of America’s most popular snacks, and easy to store. Chips can last anywhere from 2-3 months after the date on the package. This again is due in part to their packaging method. After introducing the correct amount of chips into the bags, the air is removed while adding nitrogen gas into the bag and sealing it. The nitrogen gas serves as cushioning and protection against oxidation.
Much of the bagged coffee sold at the store, regardless of the type of bag it is sold in, has a small one-way air valve. This is the tiny hole you usually see towards the top of the bag, which releases that beautiful coffee aroma we love to smell. The purpose of the valve is to release the buildup of carbon dioxide inside the bag and to prevent oxygen from entering the package. As we know, reduced oxygen helps to preserve the freshness of ground coffee or whole coffee beans. In addition to being sold in bags with valves, you can buy coffee in vacuumed sealed coffee bricks and vacuumed sealed cans, not to mention the single-serve coffee pods. The different coffee packaging options strive to protect the freshness of coffee until it is brewed and poured. All these packaging methods are continually being improved to achieve better packaging to keep food lasting for an even longer time, which is essential, especially during a pandemic situation. Packaging must also protect the consumer, the product, and the environment.
From compostable coffee pods to bags and recyclable cereal boxes, there are many options to choose from to be good stewards of the environment and to carefully choose food items that will last during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longer lasting items help to reduce store trips and ensure sustenance for your household.