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FDA continues to delay wide use of modified atmosphere packaging
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
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
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