A Beginner's Guide to Meat Packaging

The meat packaging market is a large and complex market composed of many sectors within the market. One of the primary concerns for any company packaging meat is the ability to deliver a fresh product to customers. This is often achieved in a variety of ways depending on the type of meat that is being packaged.

We strive to offer educational information about any industry we try to serve. We have a variety of materials and machines commonly used in the meat packaging industry. This article will discuss packaging materials, machines, and processes used in the meat packaging industry. We do not offer all of the materials and machines discussed in this article.

One of the most important factors in meat packaging is the type of meat being packaged. Many sectors within the meat packaging industry use certain types of packaging to best preserve the type of meat being packaged. For ease of reading, we have divided the article into different forms of meat and commonly used packaging processes for each. At the bottom of the post we have included a few links for businesses that provide products we do not within the meat industry. We do not endorse or have any affiliation with the mentioned companies.

Beef & Pork

Beef and pork use many of the same processes from butcher to end user. Large beef and pork packing plants use vacuum packaging to preserve large cuts of meat after being aged within the facility. Vacuum packaging eliminates oxygen within the package which helps to preserve the meat within the packaging.

In addition to reducing oxygen to preserve the shelf life, color preservation is important as well. To accomplish this while reducing oxygen content, packagers often use a variety of inert gases. The process of adjusting the atmosphere of a product within the packaging is known as modified atmosphere packaging.

Butcher to Grocery Store

Large cuts are vacuum packaged in thick, large flexible packaging materials and shipped to grocery stores and retailers.

Grocery Store to End User

Grocery stores most commonly use a stretchable plastic meat film coupled with a bottom foam tray. The film and tray are then placed on a heated pad to cause the film to adhere to itself. We sell our meat and food wrappers to grocery stores across the country. A food and meat wrapping machine often uses a film rack, film cutter, and heat pad to package meat.

Packaged BeefPackaging Beef

Butcher to End User

Many smaller butcher shops selling to end users use a meat film like grocery stores do. Another popular product used by smaller butcher shops is butcher paper and a label. Butcher paper is commonly found on rolls and most types offer a neutral PH. Butcher paper is inexpensive and typically used for short term meat storage.

Seafood

One of the main concerns in seafood packaging is quickly keeping products fresh. The vast majority of seafood is promptly frozen after processing. Many processors use flash freezing to quickly slow down the aging process.

Others choose canning quickly after processing to stop the aging process. There are a variety of materials and machines used in the seafood industry to fight aging and provide a fresh product to end users.

The seafood industry varies dramatically on the chosen form of packaging depending on the type of meat. Salt water and fresh water fish, crustaceans, and mollusks all require different processes to ensure a fresh tasting products to end users.

Seafood Processor to Grocery Store

Canning and freezing are both forms of modified atmosphere packaging. Food processors quickly alter the atmosphere surrounding the product to slow spoilage. A very common inert gas used to modify the atmosphere seafood is stored in is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has been shown to increase the shelf life of of seafood products, especially fish products up to 3 or 4 times of normal levels.

Many processors use flash freezing to quickly slow the aging process. After flash freezing is obtained, a variety of materials and machines are used throughout the packaging process.

Flexible packaging plays a large role in the seafood packaging space. This includes poly bags, laminated films, vacuum bags, and thermoforming film. Generally all flexible films used throughout the seafood industry are able to withstand freezing temperatures without degrading or breaking down.

Packaged Frozen Shrimp

Depending on the form of packaging chosen, frozen products are placed into the package and the package is flushed with carbon dioxide and sealed.

Another common form of seafood packaging mentioned above is canning. Canning uses products in containers heated to kill harmful bacteria. The can is then sealed to prevent bacteria from entering the can. This is another form of modified atmosphere packaging. Large canning ships on the ocean often process and can fish shortly after being caught.

Canned Salmon

Seafood Processor to Fresh Fish Market and End User

Many fisherman and processors close to the coast sell fresh fish directly to markets and end users. Packaging machinery is often limited during this process. Processors put fresh catches on ice to prevent aging or keep the catches alive. At the market, sellers often use a food and meat wrapping machine or poly bags with a twist tie to package each customer's order.

Poultry

Poultry is a perishable commodity that supports the growth of micro-organisms. Like other meat packaging, modified atmosphere packaging is quickly used for poultry to slow the aging process. Like seafood, poultry packaging often uses carbon dioxide to slow the aging process. Seafood often uses higher concentrations of carbon dioxide with packaging than poultry. Poultry often uses 20% or less of carbon dioxide to slow spoilage.

Poultry Processor to Grocery Store

Poultry has a variety of forms it is offered to end users. Whole chickens and turkeys are often packaged different than a package of legs or thighs. For whole fowl products, vacuum packaging and shrink packaging are often used. A variety of different forms of vacuum packaging is chosen depending on the processor.

Chamber vacuum packaging and nozzle vacuum packaging are common forms used throughout the industry. The decision to use an inert gas such as carbon dioxide often determines the type of vacuum packaging chosen. If choosing the use of an inert gas, nozzle vacuum packaging is often chosen.

Non-barrier shrink bags are another commonly used material for packaging whole birds. The non-barrier shrink bags are often form filled and completely sealed to prevent leaking and contamination.

Packaged Whole Turkey

For packages of poultry pieces, foam trays and a flow wrapper is often used for packaging. A flow wrapper uses two rolls of film to enclose the meat and tray. Other materials used for packaging poultry pieces are clamshell packaging and multi-layer flexible films.

Packaged Chicken Thighs

Since most grocery stores sell poultry products to customers the same way they are received from processors, we are not going to have a separate section for grocery stores to end users. On occasion, some grocery stores do use meat overwrappers and film for quartered and half chickens.

Conclusion

The meat packaging industry requires the use of a large variety of packaging materials and machinery. The type of material and process chosen is often determined by the type of meat being packaged. A consistent factor found within most meat packaging is modified atmosphere packaging.

Altering the atmosphere the meat is stored in substantially increases the life of the product. Different types of meat require different modifications for optimal shelf life. Determining the types of meat being processed and projected production levels is great first step in determining the proper meat packaging solution.  

References

As mentioned earlier, we do not offer all of the materials and machines highlighted in this article. See the references below for ideas on where to start looking for materials and machines for meat packaging.

Beef & Pork Packaging Materials and Machinery

U.S. Packaging & Wrapping LLC - Vacuum sealers, vacuum bags, meat overwrappers, meat film, and butcher paper.

Flavor Seal - Flexible packaging solutions for large cuts of beef.

Genpak - Foam Trays for meat packaging

Seafood

Ulma Packaging - A variety of commercial seafood packaging materials and machinery.

Seafoodpackaging.com - A large selection of crates, bins, totes, and bags used in the seafood industry by processors.

Poultry

Bemis - Flexible films and materials for whole poultry packaging and packaging for pieces.

Sealed Air - Materials and machines for poultry packaging.

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