Gas from Herøya and Rjukan is helping to reduce food waste
"There is currently a strong focus on food waste, since 25% of the food we buy, or every fourth plastic bagful, ends up in the bin, rather than on our plates," says Åse Spangelo, DSc, who is market and application manager at Praxair in Herøya.
Åse Spangelo, Praxair, shows how the salmon pack is labelled. The company delivers gas compounds for food packaging, to increase shelf-life and reduce food waste.
The company delivers solutions to use gas compounds for food packaging. This helps to increase shelf-life and thereby reduce the waste of valuable food and ingredients. "We use the same gases as are found in the air around us. We just mix the gases in different concentrations, according to the food to be packaged," says Åse Spangelo.
"Packaged in a modified atmosphere" is the wording which tells us that the food products we put in our shopping baskets are packaged in a mix of gases. This all started back in 1981, when British Marks & Spencer began to package meat products in a mix of gases containing more oxygen than in our ambient air. The aim was to retain the meat's red colour. In Norway, Gilde was the first to use this innovative technology. In the late 1980s, the company began to package "soft vacuum" sliced salami so that slices could be separated more easily.
Keeping up with development
"Packaged in a modified atmosphere" is the wording which tells us that the food products we put in our shopping baskets are packaged in a mix of gases.
"Later on, Gilde began to package meat products in gas. We were involved from the start – at that time our name was Hydrogas," says Åse Spangelo. She joined the company a few years later, and has followed the development since then. "In Norway, the Food Safety Authority was the official regulator. The gases carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen (N2) were used to extend shelf-life and retain the meat's delicate red colour. This mix was called ‘Gildemix’. When we adjusted to the EEA regulation in 2004, CO was removed, and the meat lost its bright red colour."
"The air that we blow in consists of 78% N2, 21% oxygen (O2), 1% argon (Ar) and 0.03% CO2. We use the same gases to conserve food, but we change the percentage distribution, based on the gases' properties and the food being packaged," Åse Spangelo explains.
During production of beef mince, the raw ingredients are cooled using liquid CO2. The meat is minced at -1.5 C, and vacuum packaging is used to remove the air around the mince. Then the plastic packages are sprayed with a mix of 60% CO2 and 40% N2 before the packages are sealed. "This treatment means that, provided that it is stored at low temperature, the mince has a shelf-life of 18 days," says Åse Spangelo. The meat's red colour is retained, since the packages contain less than 0.1% O2.
Vacuum packaging of meat is used to retain the gases. Fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, are living products that need to be treated very differently. "The meat packaging is sealed to prevent O2 getting into the packaging, and to prevent leakage of CO2. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, it is okay to let in O2, since this stops the products from decaying. Living products are therefore packaged in a mix of 5% O2 and 5% CO2, while the rest is N2. The plastic has small microperforations, to let out CO2 and let in O2," says Åse Spangelo.
Cooperating with customers
Besides delivering gas, Praxair cooperates with customers on developing packaging solutions. This is two-way cooperation, since in some cases, Praxair contacts customers to present ideas, and in other cases customers make contact themselves, to get solutions to specific problems. "Customers are the experts when it comes to their own products. We're experts in using gas and helping to find the best solutions, which includes using the right plastic film quality for packaging. The aim of this cooperation is for customers to get products of the highest possible quality, and to reduce food waste by achieving the longest possible shelf-life. Gas is the ideal solution, and the gas packaging technology is quickly gaining ground."
Breakthrough with fish
Praxair started to work on ways to store fresh fish in the 1990s, but without success. Fish is a very demanding product which has traditionally been preserved using water ice or freezing. "We made a breakthrough with gas packaging of fish in 2011, and the technology has grown rapidly since then. From 2012 to 2013, there was 64% growth in sales of gas-packaged fish in Norway. Low temperature and good hygiene, combined with the right mix of gases, has been a successful combination," Åse Spangelo concludes.