There is a dichotomy between what is thought to be a “healthy food” and what is called a “processed food.” The latter is stereotyped as unhealthy and is the result of accumulation of various fads and myths in the people’s minds. Processes that have been used right from early civilizations to recent developments have all come under the umbrella of food processing. Food can be processed and healthy is not a myth. The main objectives of this article will be 1) to explain the increasing importance of food processing, 2) to construe the significance of vacuum packaging in helping improve the shelf life of processed foods.
Food processing consists of the operations that convert raw foodstuffs into consumable and storable food. In other words, food processing means to be able to produce food that lasts the entire chain from farm to fork. Food processing consists of using processes as simple as freezing or drying to increase the shelf life of various categories of food, or it could be using processes which are as intricate as hurdle technology to obtain the desired effect in the end product.
It is very easy to put down the theories on paper, but it takes numerous amounts of trials to get the food formulation right. Apart from that, it takes months to estimate the effect of storage on the nutrient composition and then decide the suitable packaging for the food. Samyog Health Foods Pvt. Ltd. went through the exact same procedure.
Samyog Health Foods Private Limited is a Mumbai based company, which manufactures high-protein snacks under its flagship brand, Prolicious. Prolicious works on the fact that 68% of Indians are protein deficient and they will not compromise on the taste, so it came up with perfectly formulated snacks that possessed a combination of both taste and protein. The snacks that have been introduced into the market are Khakhras (thin rolled crackers that are roasted) which have a protein content of at least 20% and are available in 12 different flavours to serve the palate of the Indian consumers. Another product that has been recently launched is Protein Crackers, with a whooping amount of 30% protein and it is currently offered in 3 exciting flavours. These snacks are vacuum packed in a zip-lock bag, which ensures the freshness and crispness of Khakras and Crackers and also becomes convenient for the consumer to store such snacks.
Before we dig deep into food processing and packaging and the recent trends of this century, it becomes absolutely necessary that we know how it gained importance through the centuries, to be what it is now.
‘Food processing’ may not have been a common term in the earlier centuries, but people had been following methods such as salting meat and fermenting dairy from early civilizations. Methods for processing food gained momentum after Nicholas Appert (better known as the Father of Canning in the modern food technology world) pioneered the way for preserving foods for a longer time period for the French army in the late eighteenth century. His method involved enclosing the food in bottles, boiling the bottles for a specified number of times (depending on the nature of food) and subsequent cooling. Although, Appert had suspected that air was the cause for spoilage of foods, Louis Pasteur went on to prove that inherent microorganisms were the cause of spoilage in 1862; this led to Pasteur giving the food processing world probably one of its greatest gifts: the process of pasteurization.
More and more newer processes have evolved from the existing ones and the benefits of food processing have seen a consistent growth with these processes. The first and foremost benefit of food processing is the destruction of unfavourable microorganisms. Almost, every food industry involved in thermally processed foods of some kind uses one of the two methods of Pasteurization and Sterilization to make their products shelf stable. While pasteurization involves using temperature below 1000C for a particular period of time to kill pathogenic bacteria, sterilization involves a more intense heat treatment (temperature above 1000C) to kill the vegetative cells and spores present in the food. Such products that undergo these processes can be kept indefinitely, given that they are properly packed with no chances of recontamination. Another advantage of processing food is the destruction of unwanted compounds, like protease or trypsin inhibitors, due to the heat treatment that is given during the aforementioned process. The third benefit that is obtained by processing food is the process of amplifying the digestibility of foods and bioavailability of nutrients. One of the major examples that can be given in this case is the denaturation of proteins that occurs due to thermal processing. This denaturation helps to increase the digestibility of proteins by the human body. There are numerous other benefits to processing foods such as formation of desirable flavour compounds by the process of Maillard reaction (the interaction of sugar and amino acids in the presence of heat), inactivation of natural toxins, etc. All these factors combined together lead to one main effect: prolonged shelf life of the food.
The shelf life of the food is determined by an amalgamation of many changes like microbial, chemical, physical and biochemical changes. Although, microbial and biochemical changes can be stopped by effective heat treatments, chemical and physical changes would continue to occur in the food. These changes may lead to formation of undesirable compounds and may lead to rancidity. Rancidity is the process by which an unwanted flavour and odour is developed, due to the reaction of air with unsaturated fat present in the food. All these unwanted changes make it increasingly important for the players in the food industry to take extra measures to keep the product safe. And that is why, ensuring proper product quality and prolonging the shelf life of the food is not only confined to the realms of food processing, but also moves forth toward food packaging.
Right after processing, those who are engaged in food processing should give due importance to the packaging material that is being used by each of them. Given that the decision of food packaging is right, it may help in delaying or stopping the physical and chemical changes that are most likely to occur by not letting the food encounter with the outside environment. Choosing the right packaging also helps maintain the quality of the food throughout the supply chain, until the food reaches the end consumer for consumption. However, once the package has been opened, the spoilage clock of the food starts ticking.
Hence, how exactly does the food industry choose what packaging is right for the food that it manufactures? The answer for the same is that there are a lot of packaging options available and the industry has to consider the pros and cons of each packaging material and decide which one would fit their needs. As far as the packaging techniques are concerned, those that help maintain low levels of oxygen inside the package are the most appreciable techniques. This boils down to the numerous amounts of options that the food industry possesses into three main options: Vacuum Packaging, Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and Controlled Atmosphere Packaging (CAP). The primary aim of these packaging techniques is to lower or remove the levels of oxygen present inside the package to minimize the interaction of the food with it, thereby preventing or delaying processes such as discolouration, rancidity, microbial action, etc., leading to a prolonged shelf life. Now, we could go on forever about these techniques, but to maintain our sanctity for the purpose of this article, we shall try and keep our focus on vacuum packaging.
Vacuum packaging is the technique by which the air is sucked out of the package, after the food is packed. Most of the oxygen is removed by this process, thereby impeding the action of oxygen dependent microorganisms. Since almost all oxygen is removed, this also slows down the rate of oxidation, making the product shelf stable. This method makes it possible for the food industry to not add any chemical preservatives or stabilizers and acts as a buttress for conserving essential nutrients and functional compounds in the food. Ultimately, it is a win-win situation for both: the consumers and food industry. The consumers (who are a tad bit skeptical about chemical preservatives) obtain clean label foods and the players in the food industry are able to produce a good quality as well as a shelf stable product.
In conclusion, people are increasingly showing an inclination towards incorporating healthy food in their daily diet. Ever since the pandemic induced by COVID-19 struck several parts of the world, the health consciousness among the consumers has only been surging, wherein, people have been forced to rethink about their daily diet. People have also suddenly started becoming aware of the importance of consuming foods that contains adequate amount of proteins, dietary fibres and other healthy foods that could help boost their immunity. It now becomes the responsibility of those businesses engaged in the manufacture of food products to produce products that are not only nutritionally dense, but also acceptable in terms of sensory characteristics. The food businesses should also start focusing on sustainability and design better food systems. Packaging, which acts as a mechanical barrier to the environment for the food kept inside, also plays a major role in ensuring sustainability as well as maintaining the quality of the finished product. With so many food processing methods and packaging options available, the food industry can bring about a big change in the entire market of processed foods. There are other characteristics such as price and convenience, which gives the businesses a better edge over others, provided these characteristics are also present in their product basket. The only way forward is for the food businesses to constantly keep updating their systems and processes for ensuring a healthier future and a better environment for all.
An Article By:
Samyog Health Foods Pvt. Ltd.