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Spotlight: Packaging

FDA continues to delay wide use of modified atmosphere packaging

Tight margins in the seafood industry make it
    difficult for new packaging introductions.
By Lauren Kramer
April 01, 2009

Seafood manufacturers have always worked on very tight margins, which can restrict their use of innovative packaging. For example, modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which was anticipated by some to be the packaging technique of the future for the industry some 10 years ago, is still not being widely used.

That's due in part to stringent regulations from the Food and Drug Administration, which insists that processors using MAP also use controls such as breathable film and time temperature indicators (TTIs) to avoid the growth of Clostridium Botulinum , but it's also due to the high cost of TTIs and MAP machines, which range from $13,000 to $150,000 depending on the number of trays sealed per minute.

One alternative to MAP is the Go Green Tray from CPT Plastics in Edgerton, Wis. The company's polypropylene tray, which is manufactured using 30 percent less energy and waste, was launched in November 2006. Two years later, the tray walked away with the Pack Expo award for outstanding new product.

"We still have only about 10 seafood customers using this product, among them Pacific Pride and PasCo Seafood," says Jeff Madrzak, CPT's national accounts manager. "But that's because our product tends to be used by larger processors who sell to the Safeways and Wal-Marts of the grocery industry."

The Go Green tray's lid is a film that has an oxygen transmission rate of 250,000 CC's per square meter per day. This allows the package to breathe, release and cycle oxygen, increasing the shelf life to a total of approximately eight days.

Atlantic Aqua Farms has spent the past decade working on a MAP system for shellfish, and in August 2007 received a patent for an MAP system to keep shellfish fresh for up to 18 days. The company, based in Canada's Prince Edward Island, had its system endorsed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian government, but is still trying to gain FDA approval so that it can ship its MAP products into the U.S. market.

"We can do that right now but only using a TTI, which, at 10 cents per unit, is expensive for case-ready shellfish," says Brian Fortune, president of Atlantic Aqua Farms. "Until we can get our products into the United States without the TTI, we are roadblocked and confined to a relatively limited market."

Still, Fortune's MAP package for shellfish is doing well in Canada and Europe. "Supermarkets love it, foodservice loves it and it's working extremely well in all the areas that we're using it," he says. "It's better all around because there's less carbon footprint, less packaging being used, it's recyclable and the cardboard doesn't need to be wax lined. So it's not only a more healthy product, it's a much more environmentally friendly method of packaging shellfish."

Fortune is optimistic he will receive FDA approval of his MAP packaging in the near future.

"We are confident in the efficacy of our MAP product and very hopeful that FDA will join CFIA and governments throughout the world in granting MAP approval for live shellfish," says Fortune. "Historically, MAP in the seafood industry has been used to keep dead fish fresh, which is a completely different thing than what we do. We're looking to keep live shellfish fresh. This will benefit U.S. shellfish consumers."

Sealed Air's Cryovac Food Packaging offers two MAP programs for seafood, but also has only a dozen or so seafood customers. "Seafood is still a small portion of our case-ready business, although in 2008 we were able to see some growth," says Jim Belcher, director of case-ready marketing for the company. "With the economic times the way they are right now, capital expenditures for new packaging equipment and styles of packaging have been curtailed by almost all of our 

Sealed Air's BDF 2060 film is an alternative to shrink film, creating an oxygen barrier that grants a shelf life of up to 12 days. The company also offers a lidstock and barrier tray package together with gas flushing. The two systems range in price from $35,000 to $250,000 without factoring in the required TTI labels.

For those processors who want to check on the modified atmosphere in their seafood packaging, WITT Gasetechnik of Witten, Germany, recently released the newest version of its Oxybaby analyzer, which does precisely that. The cordless device, now in its sixth generation, has a larger display, an ability to store more data sets and a device that measures oxygen or carbon dioxide using a variably controlled pump action in the event that the Oxybaby's measuring needle or filter is blocked.


Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia



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