A UK company has developed a palladium insert, which it claims is a more efficient method of scavenging oxygen in filled bottles or packages, helping to extend shelf life.
Emco Packaging Systems' insert must be used in a modified atmosphere gas mix containing hydrogen. The palladium uses the hydrogen to bind the oxygen present in the headspace of a filled bottle or package, creating water.
John Hirst, Emco's managing director, told FoodProductionDaily.com, that the palladium keeps working until all of the hydrogen is used up. The water formed from the process is held trapped between a gas-permable membrane and a plastic substrate the company developed to put in bottle caps.
Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) helps to extend shelf life of food products by replacing oxygen in a package with a variety of intert gases, including nitrogen and hydrogen.
It is one of the techniques processors use to reduce the amount of oxygen in packed products, as the gas is a main determinant of shelf life. Reducing oxidization increases the length of time a food or drink product retains its quality and safety.
MAP gases are used to flush oxygen from the headspace area in the package. However the gas is still present in the food or beverage itself. Removing this oxygen is the job of a scaveging insert.
Emco developed its palladium insert by designed a method to ancor the metal into a substrate and cover it with a gas-permeable membrane. The membrane is then attached to a plastic base using radio frequency welding.
The whole wad, as it is called, can then be fitted into the cap of a bottle, or put into a package.
Two companies in Europe and two in the US are current testing the insert, Hirst said. Emco is ready to gear up for commercial production in Europe, after two years of development work, Hirst said.
The insert received certification this year for food contact use from UK-based Pira International. Europe is also the primary initial market for the company as the EU allows hydrogen as a packaging gas for food, while the US does not.
While Hirst did not name the companies that are currently using the Emco insert, he said tests were being done on milk powder, including infant formulations, and on wines. The company also plans to target other beverages, snack foods, meats and pharmaceuticals.
"The snack market is especially interesting to us, for example nuts," he said.
Hirst said the company is also targeting the bulk food market such as ingredients suppliers, and processors who need to store large amounts of product on site, such as those handling beer and vegetable oils.
Emco can provide the palladium cap wad ready made to processors, as the palladium does not start reacting until it is in the presence of hydrogen. Once size of wad can be used for any volume of bottle.
The company can also provide the palladium and licence the technique to processors as well.
No modifications are needed to current packaging equipment, other than the need to introduce hygrogen into the MAP process, he said.
Emco Packaging specialises in oxygen absorbing technologies and the supply of diagnostic equipment including gas analysers and leak detection devices. The company is working on getting US approval for its insert, along with the use of hydrogen as a food contact gas.