Modified Atmospheric Packaging (MAP) is a method of food safety monitoring that is found in almost every aisle of your local supermarket. From packaged produce and meat, to potato chips and hot dogs, pasta and cheese, MAP is used in almost every area of food packaging.
MAP is a technique that delays oxidation and the growth of aerobic microorganisms by measuring the amount of Oxygen in the package with an Oxygen sensor. MAP is primarily used to flush air from food storage containers and replaces it with known-gas mixtures. This process allows fresh packaged food to maintain its nutritional appeal and provides an extended shelf-life without the need for added chemicals.
Food safety monitoring is a vital component in the food industry. However, Improper monitoring and testing of fresh and packaged food can cause spoilage and illness. Overall, with proper monitoring it requires foods to be handled in specific ways to help assist and identify any issues on safety and food quality.
Ensuring Food Production Quality and Brand
Consumers want to have their expectations met when purchasing packaged foods. They do not want to see discolored or damaged packaging on the grocery store shelves. Not only can this result in the loss of capital, but also can cause customers to lose faith in the brand of the product itself. Food manufactures spend much time and energy into building their brand. It can be catastrophic when a mishap such as an illness or contamination has slipped past quality control and made it into the supermarket aisle. The MAP food preservation technique prolongs product shelf life, which directly and positively impacts the profitability and marketability of a food business.
In addition, MAP can help ensure brand quality by testing the Oxygen levels inside packaged foods. Take for example, packaged meats such as ground beef. Too much Oxygen inside the package can cause the meat to turn brown much faster, rather than stay the rich pink or red that it is supposed to be. The “goldilocks” amount of Oxygen and moisture allows the meat to stay red longer.
Besides the visual aspect of foods, MAP can aid in maintaining the natural nutritional and textural standards of the product. As food expires and spoils, it loses its natural luster. Take for example stale chips or wilted soggy spinach: neither one tastes as nice as it should. With MAP monitoring, and the correct amount of Oxygen, food can maintain its nutritional value and texture for much longer.
Due to modified atmospheric packaging's ability to maintain quality control through the packaging process, it can also help aid in eliminating waste. The Oxygen analyzer further tests packages before they hit the shelves and saves time money when defective packages are caught in time
Eliminate Food-borne Illnesses
A food borne illness is caused by ingesting unsafe food. Incorrect food safety and handling can be costly and even fatal. The TecPen Handheld Oxygen Sensor can help reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses in packaged food. Typically, food-borne illnesses are a result of contamination and can be broken down into three categories:
- Biological Contaminants: Include viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Examples of biological containment's are salmonella and E. coli
- Chemical Contaminants: Include cleaners and sanitizers. Cleaners such as bleach and ammonia are often used to sanitize work surfaces during food preparation. When these cleaners are not properly removed from surfaces, they can contaminate food.
- Physical Contaminants: Foreign objects such as dirt, glass, hair metal or other objects.
In addition, food safety monitoring can regulate how food is handled and processed to avoid such contaminants. For example, temperature is often regulated to keep food fresh. Meat and produce are kept refrigerated to minimize spoilage. In addition, food in refrigerated environments should be separated to prevent cross-contamination. Raw chicken should be stored away from other meats, and cooked food should be kept away from raw foods.
Without the use of MAP and the TecPen, there is a higher risk of illness. When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food, it is considered a food-borne illness. Take for example the Salmonella outbreak earlier in 2019. A Del Monte Fresh Produce facility in Illinois was found to be the cause of the outbreak due to the produce in their packaged vegetable trays. Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause gastrointestinal illness and fever, and luckily most people recover without treatment.
Another example in July 2019 was investigated by the FDA and CDC which involved a multi-state outbreak of E. coli that was linked to ground bison. E. coli is a bacterium that lives in the intestines of people and animals, however ingesting food or water contaminated with E. coli can cause gastrointestinal illness.
The MAP environment is created from a balanced mix of atmospheric gas. The package is flushed with a mixture of known gases and sealed. GasLab’s article on MAP explains how other gases are used to flush out harmful bacteria:
“Nitrogen will displace Oxygen but will also eliminate moisture. Since all gaseous environments seek equilibrium, the displaced moisture will seek to balance by substituting the displacement with moisture. That is where a mixture of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are used. CO2 also supports moisture while lowering pH, making the residual moisture more acidic and reducing the environment for bacterial growth and eliminating potential food-borne illness.” To test the remaining Oxygen gas, a sample of small quantity is taken inside the sealed package or container.
The TecPen for Food Safety Processing and Packaging
Modified atmospheric packaging plays a large role in overall food safety monitoring for the benefit of the food manufacturer and consumer. The TecPen can help aid in the safety monitoring process during MAP to ensure the packaged food remains tasty, textured, and most importantly, safe from the beginning of the process until the it is placed in your shopping cart. Learn more about the TecPen here.