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Accepted Manuscript

Packaging concepts for fresh and processed meat – Recent


Benjamin Schumann, Markus Schmid

PII: S1466-8564(17)30788-9
Reference: INNFOO 1925
To appear in: Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies
Received date: 13 July 2017
Revised date: 30 November 2017
Accepted date: 5 February 2018

Please cite this article as: Benjamin Schumann, Markus Schmid , Packaging concepts for
fresh and processed meat – Recent progresses. The address for the corresponding author
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Packaging concepts for fresh and processed meat – Recent progresses

Benjamin Schumann 1 and Markus Schmid1,2,*
1 Te chnical Unive rsity of Munich, TUM School of Life Scie nces Weihenstephan, Chair of Food Packaging
Te chnology, Weihenstephaner Steig 22, Fre ising 85354, Ge rmany;
2 Fraunhofe r Institute for Process Engine ering and Packaging IVV, Gigge nhauser Straße 35, 85354 Fre ising,

Ge rmany;
* Corre spondence: Te l.: +49 8161 491-526

Abstract: Modern societal, economic, nutritional and ecological changes warrant the continued
evolution of packaging solutions in order to meet new r equirements. This review examines current

advances in the development of n ovel packaging related technologies, methods and materials for

fresh and processed meat. The current focus of research has been found to concentrate on the
development of sustainably producible packaging materials as well as increased functionality of
packaging systems in general. Active & intelligent packaging solutions are showing great promise

for the improvement of packaging functionality and will enable extended shelf life, higher quality
and greater safety of packed meat. Novel approaches in this field are increasingly examining the use
of natural functional additives and combination methods. Although often held back by legal
restrictions, low retail or consumer acceptance and sometimes incomplete development, intelligent
packaging systems are still being devised and show good potential for augmenting the present
methods for maintaining the safety of packed meat. The overall goals of current research are to
enhance the safety and quality of packed meat while reducing costs and negative environmental

impacts by utilizing natural materials and synergy effects. Good efforts are being made with regard
to these objectives although many promising concepts still require some addition al refining for

Keywords: Meat packaging; sustainable packaging; active & intelligent packaging; quality; shelf life;

1. Introduction

The global food market has always been changing and adapting according to economic and social
developments. The past century has seen rapid growth in terms of both the world´s population and

overall economic prosperity. The consequent trend in the food sector has consistently been one
towards supermarkets as the dominant retail format and increasingly packaging dependent solutions
as a result of the growing prevalence of packaged foods (Popkin, Adair, & Ng, 2012). Within this
category of the food market, fresh and processed packed meat is a particularly relevant and
interesting segment worth examining. In order to design suitable packaging materials and processes
for meat products, many different factors have to be taken into account. The technology behind meat
packaging has an effect not only on the safet y of the product but also on its shelf life. The latter is
particularly relevant today as globally approximately one third of food produced for human
consumption, equating to around 1.3 billion tons, is lost annually with close to 50% of waste in
western developed countries taking place in households (FAO, 2011). Table 1 shows the waste
percentages for different commodities including meat in each step of the food supply chain. The
significance of the packagin g process but especially the treatment of the product by the consumer is
highlighted by the two highest waste percentages for meat. Inappropriate packaging is responsible for
a high degree of waste, especially in developing countries where suitable technologies and materials

are often scarce, which commonly exacerbates food shortages (Quested, Parry, Easteal, & Swannell,

Table 1: Estimate d/ assume d waste percentages for each commodity group in each ste p of the food supply
chain for Europe including Russia. (Adapte d from FAO (2011))

Agricultural Postharvest Processing & Distribution: Consumption

production Handling & packaging Supermarket
storage Retail
Cereals 2% 4% 0.5%, 10% 2% 25%
Roots and tubers 20% 9% 15% 7% 17%

Oil seeds and pulses 10% 1% 5% 1% 4%
Fruits and vegetables 20% 5% 2% 10% 19%

Meat 3.1% 0.7% 5% 4% 11%

Fish and seafood 9.4% 0.5% 6% 9% 11%
Milk 3.5% 0.5% 1.2% 0.5% 7%

As overall meat consumption is steadily rising globally and the production of meat requires
huge inputs in the form of energy and resources such as clean water and feed and is responsible for
substantial emissions, a reduction of waste through technological solutions is highly desirable
(Henchion, McCarthy, Resconi, & Troy, 2014; Thornton, 2010). This means that the optimization of
meat packing materials and processes is highly relevant not only for health reasons but also to ensure
greater sustainability of modern day agriculture and to make more food available to a growing
population. Growing meat consumption, together with an increasing proportion of meat being sold in

a packed form means that significant growth potential is present in the associated packaging industry,
with lucrative expansion relying heavily on quality and innovation. Besides these global factors
affecting sustainability, major driving forces for innovation consist of the demand of consumers for
higher quality and the desire of producing companies to reduce the cos ts associated with the

packaging itself as well as those resulting from spoilage or expiration. In developed countries, the
state of the art packaging technologies for meat is already capable of ensuring relatively high
standards concerning food safety and shelf life. Technologies such as modified atmosphere packaging

(MAP), vacuum packing and the use of conventional preservatives are well established and capable of
effectively improving the quality and shelf life of packaged meat compared to previously employed
methods (Joseph P Kerry, 2012). However, because of a shift in consumer awareness concerning food

in general and a resulting demand for more natural and sustainable products, novel approaches are
constantly being developed in order either to improve upon conventional methods or augment the
range of techniques currently available for the packaging of fresh and processed meat. Modern day
consumers in developed countries are demanding sustainably produced, convenient food products of

superior quality, high nutritional and functional value as well as extended shelf life while opposing
the use of additional processing and the use of additives (Nychas, Skandamis, Tassou, &
Koutsoumanis, 2008). This means that in order to be successful in this increasingly demanding
market, companies must strive to fulfil as many of these requirements as possible. Thus, innovations
in this field have the potential to benefit the consumer by supplying a superior pr oduct, the company
by economizing on packaging costs and adding value to the product as well as improving
sustainability. This paper offers a comprehensive review of the most recent developments in the field
of meat packaging and critically appraises their merit and promise for future application in the
industry. Emphasis is placed on the newest and most relevant developments in sustainable and
natural packaging materials, active as well as intelligent packaging, thereby excluding many relatively
established technologies such as conventional synthetic oxygen scavengers and approaches with
insufficient research or practicality, such as corrective responsive packaging. Some of the latter may
become more relevant in the future, but in order to avoid mere conj ecture at this time the focus
remains on recent, yet well documented progresses. Many of these examined concepts, especially in

the category of active packaging, show excellent potential for pushing the meat packaging industry
towards a safer, more natural and sustainable future.

2. Modern challenges and objectives for meat packaging

When examining the current challenges of fresh and processed meat packaging, one faces a
multitude of very diverse issues, many of which are not new but have caused concern for some time.
Traditional, usually more technical problems have long been targets for packaging solutions and have
varied greatly depending on the type of product (Nychas, et al., 2008). The problems affecting heat
processed or otherwise effectively treated meat for instance are very different from those encountered
with fresh meat, although certain mechanisms may still be common to both. Fresh meat for instance is

commonly packed under a protective atmosphere containing high concentrations of oxygen in order

to retain its fresh colour, which is an important quality characteristic and particularly relevant to fresh
beef as it is especially susceptible to discolouration. The various processes affecting the colour of fresh

meat are schematically depicted in figure 1 below (Suman & Joseph, 2013).


Figure 1: Modifications of myoglobin in fre sh me ats. (Adapted from Suman, e t al. (2013))

The colour of fresh meat is a major quality parameter for consumers a nd beef should ideally be
bloomed and bright red, thus containing a high proportion of oxymyoglobin, when on display
(Carpenter, Cornforth, & Whittier, 2001). High oxygen concentrations clearly may help to maintain a

fresh red colour but can also cause problems during storage. Especially high fat meats are sensitive to
lipid oxidation, which results in rancidity, and both fresh and processed meat may deteriorate in
quality by way of protein oxidation, which brings with it not only off flavours and odours but also
potential health risks (Papuc, Goran, Predescu, & Nicorescu, 2017). While vacuum packaging reduces
these mechanisms, it also produces beef with a more purple colour as it drastically reduces the
exposure of the meat to oxygen, thereby inhibiting oxymyoglobin formation .
These chemical modifications are primarily important for the sensory qualities and marketability
of fresh and processed meat products. The foremost requirement of the employed packaging system
however is to ensure the safety of the product, which is chiefly threatened by microbial spoilage. In
this respect, fresh meat does differ from many processed meat products as these utilize effective
inactivation processes such as curing, thermal or pressure treatment (Hui, Nip, & Rogers, 2001). While
fresh meats do require strict hygiene standards and continuous refrigeration, as well as efficient
packaging systems, processed meats are not exempt from risk of microbial proliferation. However,
because they provide excellent conditions for their growth, fresh meats are highly susceptible to a
great number of potentially hazardous pathogens, and is therefore limited in its shelf life (Dave &

Ghaly, 2011). Processed meats also benefit from storage in suitable packaging as they too provide a
good growth medium for microorganisms, introduced through recontamination or remaining in the
product due to incomplete inactivation. Their propensity for oxidative processes is often also elevated,
due for instance to an increase in surface area through slicing or increased availability of reactive
compounds after heat treatment.
An added difficulty in the effort of the meat packaging industry to provide safe products consists
of their wide spread abuse by the retailer or customer. It has been estimated that in some European
countries roughly 30% of refrigerated foods, including meat, are commonly stored above 10 °C at the
retail and consumer level, thereby substantially increasing the risk of spoilage and even food borne
illnesses (Nychas, et al., 2008). This poses a unique challenge to manufacturers as they have no direct
control over their product once it leaves the factory and cannot prevent its incorrect storage or use.

Besides attempting to impress the importance of continuous and adequate refrigeration upon retailers
and suppliers, packaging solutions also must be considered as potential safety measures. To date, the

overwhelming majority of packaging systems does not indicate spoilage and thus primarily fulfills a

containment and spoilage-mitigation function (Mihindukulasuriya & Lim, 2014).
The general functions of packaging have been summed up by Robertson et al. as consisting of
containment, protection, convenience and communication (Robertson, 2016). These are likely to

remain valid but do not cover all objectives required to be fulfilled by packaging in modern developed
societies. Especially consumers in western countries are beginning to expect food safety as a given and
are increasingly demanding products, which fulfill a whole host of further conditions. Fresh and
processed meats are no exception with consumers demanding products which are:

 Nutritious and healthy

 Natural and minimally processed

 Convenient and economical

 Fresh and appealing
 Responsibly produced and packed using sustainable materials

These diverse requirements are combined with the expectancy of identical or even increased shel f
life and of course high standards of safety (Henchion, et al., 2014; Hui, et al., 2001; Joseph P Kerry,
2012; Nordin & Selke, 2010). Their fulfilment represents a substantial challenge as a reduction of

processing intensity or additives is usually associated with greater susceptibility to microbial growth
or other spoilage processes and a corresponding shortening of shelf life. This applies to the
distribution of meat to businesses, which often utilizes vacuum packaging for a high degree of safety

and transport efficiency but also to the sale of meat to the end consumer, where many alternative
formats of packaging concepts have taken hold (Breen & Wilson, 1998; Seideman & Durland, 1983).
Suitable packaging systems may provide solutions for issues faced by both fresh and processed meat
products and must evolve to meet new objectives, while not compromising their previous tasks. This

means that shortcomings of established methods must be compensated and new approaches
developed in order to provide the industry with viable packaging concepts for the future.

3. Novel approaches in meat packaging

3.1. Edible, biodegradable and composite packaging

An important aspect concerning the sustainability of packaging materials consists in their

suitability to be reused, recycled or biologically broken down after they have served their purpose.
Conventional materials for the use in meat packaging such as polystyrene are produced from limited
resources and their disposal can be environmentally problematic (Ingrao, et al., 2015). Increasing
awareness of this issue has triggered a shift towards the development of bio-based packaging

A novel approach to improving the quality and shelf life of fresh and processed meat employs
the use of edible films, sheets or coatings. By definition, the thickness of films does not exceed 254 µm
and that of sheets is at least 254 µm. Both are pre-shaped and placed upon the product while coatings
are applied directly to the surface of the product in a liquid form (Robertson, 2016). The use of these
materials has numerous goals, depending on their application these include presenting a barrier to
moisture migration and gas flow, preservation of functional and mechanical properties as well as an
added protection from oxidation and microbial spoilage, sometimes enhanced by the addition of
functional compounds (Falguera, Quintero, Jiménez, Muñoz, & Ibarz, 2011). Apart from its broad
range of application edible packaging in general is also environmentally sustainable as it can be
produced from a wide variety of biologically degradable materials which are either consumed
together with the product or easily broken down post-use (Robertson, 2016). Direct contact to the

surface of the product also reduces the concentration of active components required to achieve desired
effects. Among the raw materials for the production of edible packaging polysaccharides show great

potential as they are naturally abundant and often possess excellent barrier functionality and film

forming properties although they are susceptible to moisture migration (Falguera, et al., 2011).
Starch is a good example for a safe and readily available polysaccharide, suitable for the
production of edible films for meat packaging, but in its native conformation it is limited in its

applicability due to its sensitivity to moisture. Edible films and coatings can be produced using starch
but these merely possess barrier properties without added antibacterial or antimicrobial functionality .
For these reasons, recent research has focused on the combination of starch with structurally
reinforcing compounds or functional additives like bacteriocins or essential oils (Meira, Zehetmeyer,
Werner, & Brandelli, 2017; Radha krishnan, et al., 2015). Radha et al. (Radha krishnan, et al., 2015)
found that the application of edible films made with corn starch at 6% and essential oils from cloves or
cinnamon at 3% respectively significantly reduced microbial growth and colour deterioration of

refrigerated, fresh beef. The use of the same essential oils in edible films based on tamarind starch also
showed positive results with regard to antimicrobial and antioxidant activity (Rakhavan, Sudharsan,
Babuskin, & Sukumar, 2016). Bio-elastomers on the basis of starch have also been shown to assist in
the slow release of essential oils from active films produced thereof and may effectively withstand

dissolution upon contact with water (Tran, Athanassiou, Basit, & Bayer, 2017). This shows the
potential of different starches as primary ingredients together with functional additives as an efficient
and cost effective combination of materials for use in the production of edible films and biodegradable

packaging materials.
The fact that cellulose is the most abundant biopolymer world-wide makes it an ideal raw
material for the use in sustainable packaging materials. Cellulose ethers such as methylcellulose

hydroxypropyl cellulose, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose and carboxymethyl cellulose are all suitable
for the production of packaging films (Robertson, 2016). Mirroring the experiment conducted by
Radha et al. (Radha krishnan, et al., 2015), Muppalla et al. (Muppalla, Kanatt, Chawla, & Sharma,
2014) incorporated clove oil into carboxymethyl cellulose-polyvinyl alcohol films and achieved very

similar results. Shelf life of their samples of ground chicken meat was extended from 4 to 12 days,
although the greater surface area and cell destr uction compared to the whole chicken breast as
examined by Radha et al. must be taken into account as this may explain the accelerated spoilage of
the ground meat. This use of cellulose as a raw material for the same application as starch showcases
the wide variety of bulk ingredients available for use in the production of biodegradable films and
their enhancement through the addition of natural extracts such as essential oils. However, an
excessive concentration of essential oil can reduce the water vapour barrier properties of some
materials (Sung, Sin, Tee, Bee, Rahmat, & Rahman, 2014).
Chitosan is another polysaccharide currently under scrutiny as a raw material for edible coatings
and films but also for use in composite materials. It is produced by way of deacetylation of chitin,
which is present in high concentrations in the exoskeleton of arthropods. Chitosan naturally inhibits
the growth of a broad spectrum of microorganisms (Vu, Hollingsworth, Leroux, Salmieri, & Lacroix,
2011). Its antimicrobial activity is greatly influenced by its molecular weight with values below 300
kDa reportedly increasing its inhibitory effect on S. aureus while its suppressive effect on E. col i

decreased (Zheng & Zhu, 2003). Depending on the composition of the food matrix, chitosan may
migrate into the matrix to a certain degree but this only occurs when it is in direct contact with the
surface of the treated food. The extent of migration as well as the efficacy of chitosan are closely
connected to its incompatibility with the treated product. This means that an increased concentration
of cation-binding substances in the food matrix limits the depth of penetration of the cationic chitosan
into the product, while also hampering its antimicrobial effectiveness (Devlieghere, Vermeulen, &
Debevere, 2004; Kubota & Kikuchi, 1998). Chitosan has a limited capacity for the absorption of water
and its solubility and the associated sensitivity are highly dependen t on its molecular weight, with
lower molecular weight resulting in a larger number of polar and therefore hydrophilic polymer ends
(Gocho, Shimizu, Tanioka, Chou, & Na kajima, 2000). This means, that chitosan based films display a
low sensitivity to water, the extent of which can be influenced by the choice of raw material i.e.

molecular weight. The wide applicability of chitosan allows for the development of various packaging
systems for fresh and processed meat. By adding nanocellulose to a chitosan film, Dehnad et al.

achieved improved mechanical film properties, as well as a reduction of lactic acid bacteria on ground

meat packed therein by 3.1 log cfu (colony forming units)/g compared to the control (Dehnad, Mirzaei,
Emam-Djomeh, Jafari, & Dadashi, 2014). Quesada et al. were able to control the growth of yeasts and
reduce water condensation in a refrigerated ready to eat meat product by applying a chitosan film,

infused with essential oils extracted from thyme, to the inside of the package (Quesada, Sendra,
Navarro, & Sayas-Barberá, 2016). This was achieved by pouring the prepar ed chitosan solution onto
the surface of the packaging and allowing it to dry for 72 hours, thereby obtaining a thin layer on the
inside of the packaging material. While bacterial growth was not inhibited due to the lack of contact of
the product to the active film, the appearance of the cooked ham used in the experimen ts was superior
to that of the control. Vasile et al. have found that by coating with or incorporating chitosan into LDPE
at 3 and 6% the oxygen barrier properties of the resulting film were significantly improved (Vasile, et

al., 2014). Th e O2 transmission rate of the untreated LDPE film used for the experiments was found to
be 3833.36 mL/m2*day, which was lowered to as little as 2142 mL/m2*day by the addition of a 10 -20
μm layer of chitosan. The permeability tests were carried out at 0% relative humidity and 23 °C, with
nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen as test gases. Also, the antimicrobial activity bestowed by the

addition of chitosan increased the shelf life of the ground poultry meat, which was packed in the
developed film. The inclusion of, or coating with, chitosan did not alter the mechanical properties of
the film and shows promise for future application. Also, the combination of chitosan with other

natural materials such as nanocellulose may remedy the structural shortcomings of many bio
polymers and make these more competitive to petroleum-based packaging materials (Dehnad, et al.,

Poly lactic acid (PLA) is another example for a biodegradable material which is being
investigated for its synergistic effects. When added to a chitosan based film, even at just 10 %, PLA
reduces water vapour permeability through its hydrophobic makeup (Suyatma, Copinet, Tighzert, &
Coma, 2004). Due to its affordability, good mechanical properties and biodegradability, efforts to

utilize PLA in a w ide range of applications have been made for some time. As in the case of chitosan,
these often include the use of antimicrobial substances. For instance, Zhang et al. produced promising
results by introducing nisin into PLA based films, reducing the number of Sal monella enteritidis from
6.8 log cfu/mL to 3.5 log cfu/mL on and around the contact area of the film (Jin & Zhang, 2008).
A wide variety of proteins also offer the opportunity to enhance the functionality of packaging
materials as their use often produces better barriers against oxygen, carbon dioxide and aromas
(Robertson, 2016). Applying a protein layer to the packaging surface may therefore improve both
plastic and biodegradable materials (Cinelli, et al., 2014). If they are to be used in the production of
packaging materials, the availability and suitability of proteins is of great importance and there are
efforts afoot to utilize waste streams from different food production operations such as oil, dairy and
starch production (Du, Chen, Zhang, Rempel, Thompson, & Liu, 2015; Fernández -Pan, Mendoza, &
Maté, 2013; Song, Song, Jo, & Song, 2013). For instance, Song et al. have proposed the use of sunflower
seed protein as a byproduct of sunflower oil production in the developm ent of a composite film for
meat packaging applications (Song, et al., 2013). With the addition of a plasticizer, films produced on

the basis of this protein showed good stability and elasticity. Adding grapefruit seed extract imparted
antimicrobial activity against Listeria monocytogenes, reducing the number of bacteria on a laboratory
growth medium by 1.11 log cfu/g. More traditional raw materials for use in coatings are also being re-
examined in the context of novel applications, often involving the use of newly developed or natural
additives. For instance, gelatin based films and coatings can be optimized by the addition of such
functional components (Ramos, Valdés, Beltrán, & Garrigós, 2016). Cardoso et al. (Cardoso, Dutra,
Fontes, Ramos, de Miranda Gomide, & Ramos, 2016) found that a blend of 3–6% gelatin, 0.5–1.0%
chitosan and 6% glycerol produced a coating capable of substantially reducing weight loss, lipid
oxidation and colour degradation of beef during display, thereby extending the shelf life of the
product and reducing waste. Because of its structure, gelatin, like many of the polysaccharides, can
also be used to deliver antioxidants or antimicrobial substances to the product surface. Essential oils

as natural extracts are being increasingly examined in this context as they are easily incorporated into
the gelatin matrix and naturally preserve the product at low concentration s and high consumer

acceptance (Oliveira, Brugnera, & Piccoli, 2013). The addition of essential oils has also been used to

increase the structural strength and water vapour barrier functions of gelatin based films (Gallego,
Gordon, Segovia, & Almajano Pablos, 2016).
A functional and readily available by-product of the food industry is whey protein derived from

cheese production. Due to its excellent barrier properties towards oxygen, it has been examined for
the development of new coated packaging materials for some time (Robertson, 2016). However, recent
research has focused on finding more sustainable applications for whey protein which facilitate end of
life treatment and focus on the use of natural compounds. As it is biologically degradable, it lends
itself to increasing the barrier functionality of bio-polymer based films without compromising their
post use decomposition (Cinelli, et al., 2014). This is part of an effort to develop improved packaging
materials which utilize synergy effects between different natural materials aiming to replace oil based

polymers in the meat packaging industry. The use of suitable enzymes during the recycling process
also enables the removal of whey protein based coatings from conventional pac kaging materials, thus
increasing the range of their potential application without reducing the sustainability associated with
recyclable polymers (Cinelli, Schmid, Bugnicourt, Coltelli, & Lazzeri, 2016). Good film forming

properties also make whey protein available to the delivery of functional components to the surface of
fresh and processed meat (Fernández-Pan, et al., 2013).
Many other proteins such as soy protein, corn zein, casein and wheat gluten are also being

examined as potential raw materials for the development of biodegradable films (Guerrero,
O'Sullivan, Kerry, & de la Caba, 2015; Ozcalik & Tihminlioglu, 2013; Robertson, 2016). This review has
focused on a few relevant examples in order to highlight the trend toward a more sustainable future

in the packaging industry. It should also be noted that the use of proteins in food packaging in general
should always be critically examined, as they constitute potential allergens and may be harmful to a
growing consumer segment suffering from food allergies (Robertson, 2016). Also, the use of som e of
the mentioned raw materials, such as starch or wheat gluten, for the production of packaging

materials are controversial, as they may compete with food production and thereby contribute to
shortages or price inflation of staple foods as many countries have already experienced in the context
of bio-fuel production (Rudel, 2013).

3.2. Active packaging

According to the European Regulation (EC) No. 450/2009 on active and intelligent materials and
articles intended to come into contact with food, “active materials and articles […] are intended to
extend the shelf-life or to maintain or improve the condition of packaged food; they are designed to
deliberately incorporate components that would release or absorb substances into or from the
packaged food or the environment surrounding the food”.

3.2.1. Antimicrobial active packaging


Previously mentioned health risks, associated with fresh and processed meat, have prompted
research into the reduction of microbial growth by many different means. Active packaging is an
important area of research as it can assist in controlling the conditions under which meat is held for
the majority of its storage, distribution and sale (Joseph P Kerry, 2012). Zhang et al. have estimated
that ubiquitous use of active packaging has the potential to reduce beef losses at the retail level by
147 600 t annually in the EU alone, with further reductions attainable by extending their effect at the
consumption level (Zhang, Hortal, Dobon, Bermudez, & Lara‐Lledo, 2015).
In gen eral, antimicrobial agents may be applied directly to the surface of the product, which often
entails a high degree of migration of the utilized compound into the product and limits its
effectiveness to the vicinity of its application, or consist of volatile substances in the headspace. The
latter method shows an effect on the entire exposed product surface, which in the case of meat is often

sufficient as the interior may usually be assumed to be sterile. This also results in reduced migration
of the additive into the product, which in some cases may be of s ensory or regulatory concern

(Ahvenainen, 2003).

In order to give a small overview of existing approaches, table 2 below shows some examples for
already available products intended for antimicrobial packaging. While by far not comprehensive, the
list of various compounds, matrices and forms of delivery shows t he breadth of possible avenues for

future developments.

Table 2: Commercial products for antimicrobial food packaging. (Adapted from Sung, et al.

Matrix Application Trade name

Silver substituted Film, Wrap, milk containers, AgIon ®, Zeomic™,

LLDPE, PE, PVE, rubber
Zeolite paperboard cartons Cleanaid™, Novaron ®
Chlorine dioxide Polyolefin Film, sachet

Ethanol Silicon dioxide Sachet Ethicap™

Laminated plastic sheet Sheet or pad for postharvest
Sulfur dioxide Uvasy™
with Na 2S2O5 storage of grape fruits

Triclosan Polymer, rubber Food container Microban ®

Encapsulation in
Wasabi extract Coated PET film, tablet Wasapower™


New active packaging solutions for the control of microbial growth on fresh and processed meat

utilize a wide variety of techniques, some of them already mentioned as part of the overview on novel
packaging materials above. For instance, dipping chicken breast fillets into a 1 g / 100 ml chitosan
solution before packaging under air, extended their shelf life from 5 to 11 days and in combination
with MAP using 70% CO2 and 30% N 2 even to 14 days (Latou, Mexis, Badeka, Kontakos, &
Kontominas, 2014). When infused with mint- or pomegranate peel extract, films composed of chitosan
and polyvinyl alcohol have the potential to completely inhibit the proliferation of Bacillus cereus and
reduce the population of Staphylococcus aureus by 2 orders of magnitude (Kanatt, Rao, Chawla, &
Sharma, 2012). It is important to note that the antimicrobial activity of these films was only present
where they came into contact with the product while the release of phenols as antioxidants from the
films benefitted the entire surface of the product. However, the antimicrobial effect of these films
shows the potential of natural extracts used in combination with bioactive packaging materials.
Increasingly, synergy effects of this kind are being examined in the context of active packaging,
as they are able to extend the shelf life of products and make a reduction of additives possible. The
example above shows the potential of natural components to increase the effectiveness of
conventional packaging methods such as MAP by exploiting different weaknesses of microorganisms.

Novel active MAP combines active coatings of packaging materials with a modified atmosphere
within the packaging. Recent research has placed particular emphasis on this technology, often
employing natural compounds as functional additives. Part of this trend is the use of various essential
oils as functional components in meat packaging systems, which has been subject to increasing
research. Paparella et al. have shown that the combination of a chitosan (CH) based film with oregano
essential oil (OEO) is capable of increasing the antimicrobial effect of the latter significantly (Paparella,
et al., 2016). This was most pronounced at 4% essential oil in the film. By efficiently reducing the
growth of Pseudomonas and Brochoth rix species, both responsible for meat spoilage, and containing the
proliferation of the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, the shelf life of fresh pork fillets, packed under a
modified atmosphere of 70% O2, 20% CO2 and 10% N 2, could be increased from 12 to over 18 days
compared to the untreated control by using this combination. Bacteriocins have also successfully been

used to augment the efficacy of MAP and vacuum packaging. Ercolini et al. have shown that fresh
beef, stored at 1 °C in nisin-activated plastic bags, showed a 1-3 log cfu/g reduction in the number of

enterobacteria between 22 and 32 days of storage compared to the control in untreated bags. The

activated packaging was prepared by pouring a HCl, nisin and EDTA solution into a bag composed of
a copolymer from vinylidene chloride and ethyl vinyl a lcohol and allowing the components to
penetrate for 1 hour at room temperature before use (Ercolini, et al., 2010). However, by combining

this antimicrobial agent with vacuum packaging, the shelf life of fresh beef can be extended, from 7
days or 21 days respectively for nisin-activated packaging or vacuum packaging alone, to 44 days
using a combination of both (Ercolini, et al., 2011). La Storia et al. used the same principle for the
treatment of high density polyethylene film (HDPE) with a nisin solution but combined the resulting
films with MAP. Th e nisin activated films were placed directly onto the surface of beefsteaks, which
were subsequently packed in polystyrene trays and sealed under 60% O2 and 40% CO2 with low
density polyethylene film. This combination resulted in a reduction of the total viable count on fresh

beef steaks from 7.68 log cfu/g, found for samples stored at 4 °C for 12 days in nisin-activated
packaging under air, to 3.67 log cfu/g in those with MAP under otherwise identical conditions (La
Storia, et al., 2012).
Sung et al. found that garlic oil at a concentration of as little as 2% in conventional plastic

packaging can effectively inhibit the growth of Listeria monocytogenes on ready to eat meat products
during storage at 4 °C for 15 days (Sung, et al., 2014). However, the effect of garlic oil, even at higher
concentrations of up to 8%, on the proliferation on Escherichia coli and Bacillus thermosphacta was

negligible. By applying an edible film based on whey protein isolate and glycerol with essential oils of
oregano or clove, Fernández-Pan et al. were able to significantly reduce microbial growth on the
surface of poultry (Fernández-Pan, et al., 2013). Here too, the extent of suppression achieved for

different bacterial populations varied depending on the species. Mulla et al. coated a chromic acid
modified Linear low -density polyethylene (LLDPE) film with clove essential oil, which achieved
effective inhibition of Sal monella typh imurium and Listeria monocytogenes in minced chicken packed in
the LLDPE/CA/CLO film (Mulla, Ahmed, Al-Attar, Castro-Aguirre, Arfat, & Auras, 2016). Within one

day of storage, the initial microbial load of the two bacteria was reduced by 2-3 orders of magnitude
compared to the control which was packed in untreated LLDPE. By the 5 th day of storage, the
microbial count remained constant and was sustained throughout a 21-day storage period at 4 °C. The
combination of an active packaging film, infused with coriander essential oil, with high pressure
processing showed a synergistic effect for the suppression of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat
chicken breast (Stratakos, Delgado-Pando, Linton, Patterson, & Koidis, 2015). Although temperature
control of the treated product remained vital, the experiments showed a potential for the reduction of
processing intensity without a loss of food safety of quality.
Due to the large number of food borne diseases associated especially with fresh meat, these
approaches represent a promising development in the reduction of risk in this category by use of
natural means. The application of essential oils as functional components can be limited by their
usually strong smell, which restricts the acceptable concentration in packaging materials. However, as
well as boosting overall antimicrobial activity, the combination of essential oils with other
technologies such as MAP or bio active films may allow a sufficient reduction of the necessary OE

concentration as to not negatively influence the sensory properties of the product while still
contributing significant antimicrobial activity (Jayasena & Jo, 2013).
Tornuk et al. have demonstrated the use of nanoclays, loaded with specific essential oils, as
antimicrobial additives in LDPE films for the packagin g of sliced fermented sausage (Tornuk, Hancer,
Sagdic, & Y etim, 2015). The use of thymol and carvacrol was particularly effective, reducing the
number of lactic acid bacteria by 1 log cfu/g and significantly suppressing the proliferation of
Escherichia coli O157:H7 compared to the control with untreated LDPE during a storage period of 30
days at 10 °C. An extract containing a blend of polyphenols added to ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)
films also showed good antimicrobial activity (Barbosa-Pereira, Angulo, Lagarón, Paseiro-Losada, &
Cruz, 2014). At 6% extract concentration in the film, the growth of Staphylococcus aureus on fresh beef
samples was reduced by 90% after the first day of storage at 4 °C and by 99% after day 6 compared to

control samples packed in untreated EVA. The proliferation of Staphylococcus aureus on fresh pork has
also been effectively inhibited with the help of zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles, which were used as a

coating on sodium carboxymethyl cellulose film (Suo, Li, Wang, Li, Pan, & Ai, 2016). The resulting

active film reduced its growth by more than 3 log cfu/g during a 14 day storage period at 4 °C
compared to samples stored in untreated film. While the total plate count on fresh pork was also
significantly reduced by packaging in the active film, the ZnO showed particular effectiveness against

Staphylococcus aureus. Cell analysis indicated, that the ZnO nanoparticles encouraged its cell
membrane integrity to be compromised at low temperatures. This observation is of great interest for
the development of meat packaging systems, as Staphylococcus aureus is typically very resistant to cold
storage conditions (Whiting, Sackitey, Calderone, Morely, & Phillips, 1996). The efficacy of active
packaging loaded with ZnO nanoparticles against Staphylococcus aureus was confirmed by Akbar et al.
and also shown for Salmonella ty phimurium (Akbar & Anal, 2014). By actively causing the lysis of
bacteria on the surface of ready to eat poultry meat during a 10 day storage period at 8 °C, the edible

sodium alginate based films with ZnO nanoparticles were able to reduce the count of both species to
zero. The ZnO nanomaterial used in these experiments is currently considered as safe for food
applications and has good potential for improving the safety of fresh and pr ocessed meat products.
The combination of ZnO with Ag nanoparticles, which have already been extensively tested in meat

packaging systems, also showed good inhibitory activity against a broad spectrum of microorganisms
on fresh chicken breast (Panea, Ripoll, González, Fernández-Cuello, & Albertí, 2014). A combination
approach using Ag nanoparticles together with chitosan and lysozyme from egg white in an edible

hydroxypropyl methylcellulose based hydrosol has recently been shown to possess excellent
antimicrobial properties (Zimoch-Korzycka & Jarmoluk, 2015). Its application to the surface of fresh
beef, before vacuum packing and storage at 4 °C, almost completely inhibited the growth of Bacillus

cereus, Micrococcus flavus, Escherich ia col i and Pseudomonas fluorescens during a 3-week storage period.
The exploitation of synergy effects as shown here holds great potential not only for the replacement or
reduction of individual additives but also for the developm ent of more effective active packaging
systems and a reduction of required processing intensity. However, under current EU legislation

(Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for

on the hygiene of foodstuffs), meat products of this kind i.e. containing additives, may not be
sold as fresh meat but only as meat preparations. This confines the sale of such products to countries
without equivalent legislation or necessitates the use of alternative labelling in order to comply with
these rules.
By incorporating bacteriophages in cellulose acetate films to target Salmonella enterica, Gouvêa et
al. (Gouvêa, Mendonça, Soto, & Cruz, 2015) took a novel approach to combatting the growth of
pathogens in food products. For the production of the films, a mixture of cellulose acetate and acetone
in a proportion of 1:10 was prepared. Phages were added in the form of a suspension buffer at an
initial concentration of 10 10 PFU mL−1 and the resulting mass homogenized before being applied to
clean glass plates in order to obtain thin films after the evaporation of the volatile solvent. Although
no elevated heat was used, the concentration of viable phages was lowered to 10 8 PFU mL−1 during the
production of the films alone. It is likely that this inactivation would be significantly exacerbated by
the use of conventional high heat production methods for thermoplastic packaging materials. The

bacteriophages were isolated from the faeces of chicken and pigs as well as from poultry exudates and
retained their antimicrobial activity for a period of 14 days after being incorporated in the film. By
adding the bacteriophages the porosity and roughnes s of the film increased, indicating their
unfavourable interaction with the film material. Antimicrobial activity differed substantially from that
of chemical agents. Due to their infection-based inactivation mechanism, the bacteriophages displayed
more dynamic behaviour and did not efficiently inhibit the growth of the target bacteria . This is likely
to stem from a certain minimal bacteria concentration, required for the effectiveness of the
bacteriophages, as well as from their partial immobilization in the film matrix. These factors lead to an
eventual, local suppression of the target bacteria without the speed or efficiency of conventional
preservatives. The application of the virus to a solid substrate therefore does not constitute an ideal
scenario for the inactivation of its host. By applying the technique to products with a more fluid

texture such as marinated meat, the bacteriophage would possibly be capable of more rapidly
infecting a larger proportion of the target bacteria as mobility through diffusion in a liquid phase

would facilitate this process. As many species of Salmonella are potent pathogens frequently found in

fresh and processed meat, the use of a specific antimicrobial agent such as a bacteriophage represents
an innovative and attractive tool to improving food hygiene and safety. However, the use of viruses
for food applications in general and in this instance also their faeces based source complicate their use

from a legal as well as a consumer acceptance perspective.
A more pragmatic approach for the suppression of pathogens on fresh chicken meat was
described by Melero et al. who combined MAP with the application of 2 protective bacterial cultures
(Melero, Vinuesa, Diez, Jaime, & Rovira, 2013). Inoculating chicken burgers with Leuconostoc
pseudomesenteroides PCK18 reduced the growth of Listeria monocy togenes by 1.22 log cfu/g as compared
to the control while also delaying the proliferation of Campylobacter species. Spraying chicken legs
with a suspension of Bifidobacterium longum ssp. longum PCB133 achieved a 1.16 log cfu/g reduction

compared to samples sprayed with distilled water. The shelf life of the treated products was doubled
in both cases by the additional use of MAP containing 50% CO2, 10% O2 and 40% N2 for the chicken
burgers and 30% CO2 and 70% N 2 for the chicken legs. By treating sliced, cured and smoked pork loin
with a suspension of Lactobacillus sakei, Vaz Velho et al. achieved effective inhibition of Listeria innocua

as a model organism for Listeria monocy togenes. The growth of Listeria innocua was reduced by 1-2 log
cfu/g after 12 hours compared to the untreated control and was further reduced by the application of
MAP with 40% CO2 and 60% N2 (Vaz Velho, et al., 2015). In combination with vacuum or modified

atmosphere packaging, the use of a mixture of Lactobacillus sakei strains as protective cultures in
ground beef may inhibit the growth of Sal monella typhimurium and Escherichia coli (Chaillou,
Christieans, Rivollier, Lucquin, Champomier -Verges, & Zagorec, 2014). Increased diversity of strains

proved to enhance their overall ability to suppress the proliferation of targeted pathogens.
The use of microorganisms to inhibit the growth of meat related pathogens, shows potential for
application against specific strains of bacteria in a wide range of fresh and processed meat s, especially
when combined with other techniques such as MAP. However, the safety of the employed microbial

agents and the lack of unwanted sensory alterations caused by their presence must be established
before commercial use can be considered. Also, the incorporation of viable microorganisms into
packaging systems, however effective, may well encounter resistance at the retail and consumer level.

3.2.2. Novel strategies for the control of fresh meat discolouration

As previously mentioned, the discolouration of fresh meats depends to a great extent on the
composition of the atmosphere surrounding it, the nature and extent of its processing and its own
composition. Fresh beef is particularly susceptible to discolouration and can be packed in a variety of
different packaging systems such as MAP or vacuum packaging (VAC) in order to maintain or
enhance its colour. López-Campos et al. have described the use of a conventional method for a novel
application (López-Campos, Zawadski, Landry, Aalhus, & Uttaro, 2014). By simply using
conventional MAP with 20% CO2 and 80% O2 , they were able to affect a colour modification of dark
cutting beef resulting in a colour very similar to normal meat. Blooming of the colour, caused by the

high oxygen concentration changed the appearance of the packaged beef sufficiently for it to be
acceptable to the consumer. However, Jayasingh et al. have shown that oxidative processes associated
with high oxygen packaging may lead to considerable sensory deterioration of meat products,
especially raw meats with a high surface area such as ground beef (Jayasingh, Cornforth, Brennand,
Carpenter, & Whittier, 2002). Microbial risks may also be exacerbated by this form of packaging when
compared to low oxygen MAP or vacuum packaging as the growth rate and final population of some
pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes may be substantially increased by a high oxygen environment
(Tsigarida, Skandamis, & Nychas, 2000).
The use of carbon monoxide (CO), although currently banned for direct contact with food within
the EU, shows good potential for application to the packaging of fresh meat, as it not only inhibits
microbial proliferation but also assists in the preservation of colour in a low oxygen atmosphere

(Yang, Zhang, Zhu, Han, Gao, & Luo, 2016). Yang et al. showed that by using MAP with 0.4 %
CO, 30% CO2 and 69.6% N2, the shelf life of fresh beef steaks could be extended from 8 to 12 days

compared to samples in aerobic MAP with 80% O2 or 50% O2. The CO MAP samples also showed

higher redness than vacuum packed samples, which demonstrates the functionality of CO and rules
out the absence of oxygen as the sole contributing factor. The use of CO-producing oxygen scavengers
also shows promise as these combine a reduction of residual or migrated Oxygen concentration with

the supply of a protective gas (Arteaga, Cutter, Campbell, & Mills, 2016). While the reduced oxygen
level helped to prevent the formation of metmyoglobin in fresh ground beef, the produced CO also
increased colour stability as well as suppressing microbial growth. However, the application of CO in
meat packaging systems is no longer restricted to MAP. Sakowska et al. have shown that CO can be
used to pre-treat fresh beef steaks before vacuum packaging (CO VAC), thereby improving their
appearance when compared to samples packed in CO MAP (Sakowska, Guzek, Sun, & Wierzbicka,
2016). The CO VAC samples were prepared by subjecting steaks to 0.5% CO MAP for 48 hours and

subsequently vacuum packing them in PA/PE bags while the CO MAP samples remained in the 0.5 %
CO MAP for the entire storage period. The benefits of using CO VAC as opposed to CO MAP were
summarized as delivering increased consumer acceptance concerning tenderness as well as a
reduction of required packaging material and transport volume. Because its use is restricted in many

countries, the application of CO on fresh and processed meat products is limited at present but
research aiming to reduce the necessary concentration in treated products may eventually assist in
overcoming these barriers.

A more currently viable approach combining VAC with MAP has recently been suggested by Łopacka
et al. (Łopacka, Półtorak, & Wierzbicka, 2017). Beef steaks were sealed in semi permeable vacuum skin
packaging (VSP) film and subsequently placed into MAP with water and gas barrier properties

containing 80% O2 and 20% CO2. This method provided similar colour stability as conventional MAP
but also succeeded in substantially reducing lipid oxidation compared to that observed in MAP with a
high oxygen concentration. This example represents a good effort to mitigate the downsides of MAP
while preserving its proven advantages.

3.2.3. Antioxidant active packaging

Packaging systems play an important role in the protection of fresh and processed meat from
lipid and protein oxidation as well as the development of off flavours. While some active packaging
solutions individually have positive effects on some quality parameters of these products, such as the
colour, they may also possess weaknesses in other areas. The high oxygen concentration often used in
MAP of fresh meat for instance may result in significant lipid or protein oxidation and the formation
of off flavours or odours (Spanos, Tørngren, Christensen, & Baron, 2016). Antioxidant active
packaging may use independent devices which contain functional materials and are placed in the
pack or consist of packaging materials into which these have been incorporated (Gómez-Estaca,
López-de-Dicastillo, Hernández-Muñoz, Catalá, & Gavara, 2014). In this context, the use of natural
compounds for their antioxidant activities has received considerable attention in recent years.

Gallego et al. have demonstrated that, even at low concentrations of 0.2 % and 1% respectively,
plant extracts from tara (Caesalpinia spinosa ) and shoofly (Caesal pinia decapetala) show excellent
antioxidant activity when incorporated into gelatin based films (Gallego, et al., 2016). Their use during
a 12-day storage period reduced the formation of TBARS (Thiobarbituric acid reactive substances) in
raw beef patties packed in the active film, more efficiently than the synthetic BHA (Butylated
hydroxyanisole) at 0.001%. These results may be used to shed some light on the question whether
natural compounds can match conventional additives in their antioxidant efficacy . This would be an
important aspect when considering their replacement and has yet to be determined for many of the
proposed substances as these have often only been compared to completely untreated samples
without controls using synthetic antioxidants.
By extracting polyphenolic compounds from polyvinylpolypyrollidone, which had previously

been used as cleaning agent during the clarification step of beer in a brewery, Barbosa-Pereira et al.
were able to utilize a residual stream of beer production to obtain highly effective natural antioxidants

(Barbosa-Pereira, Aurrekoetxea, Angulo, Paseiro-Losada, & Cruz, 2014). After purification, the

resulting concentrate was applied to an LDPE film and this used to pack fresh beef, which was
subsequently stored at 4 °C for 16 days. At 20% concentration, this blend was able to reduce the lipid
oxidation of the meat samples during storage by 90 % compared to the untreated LDPE control. The

effectiveness of this method and the procurement of its functional components show the great
potential of natural compounds as active agent s in packaging systems while also demonstrating the
possible exploitation of waste streams in the food industry. Contini et al. have taken a more controlled
approach by using a standardized, commercially available citrus extract (Claudia Contini, Álvarez,
O'Sullivan, Dowling, Gargan, & Monahan, 2014; C. Contini, Katsikogianni, O'Neill, O'Sullivan,
Dowling, & Monahan, 2014). They showed, that PET trays coated with the extract released ph enolic
compounds, which had an affinity to the aqueous phase of cooked turkey. Primarily carboxylic acids

and flavanones proved to effectively reduce lipid oxidation upon migrating into the surface of the
As already mentioned, several purified essential oils also show good antioxidant activity when
incorporated into active film materials. Increasing research into essential oils and their application to

meat packaging systems has shown their potential to counteract the detrimental effects of high oxygen
concentrations in MAP on the quality of fresh meat. By combining MAP, using 80% O2 and 20% CO2,
with an active film containing oregano essential oil at 2%, lipid and protein oxidation of fresh foal

steaks can be significantly reduced (Lorenzo, Batlle, & Gómez, 2014). The addition of the essential oil
to the packaging film doubled their shelf life in regard to their colour and odour as well as efficiently
inhibiting the formation of metmyoglobin and improving the suppression of microorganisms

compared to the pure MAP control. Hu et al. have combined the use of nanotechnology with the
antioxidant effect of a natural essential oil (Hu, Wang, Xiao, & Bi, 2015). LDPE films coated with 527
nm chitosan particles, loaded with cinnamon essential oil, were very effective in reducing oxidation
reactions of chilled pork samples during 15 days of storage at 4 °C. Microencapsulation allowed a

large amount of essential to be incorporated and enabled its slow release from the active packaging
film. This resulted is sustained effectiveness as well as an acceptable level of cinnamon odour. The
extent of sensory impairment caused by essential oils, for instance extracted from oregano, has been
found to be low, even when used at effective levels. The flavour contribution from this particular oil
was either perceived as pleasant or as barely noticeable (Goulas & Kontominas, 2007; Skandamis &
Nychas, 2002). However, as these results may not be observable with all essential oils with
antimicrobial effect at the necessary levels, the possible formation of off flavours remains a weakness
of these additives. It may be possible to sufficiently reduce the negative sensory impact by utilizing
synergy effects with other additives or materials in order to preserve the antimicrobial efficacy in the
application of these natural components.
Nanoselenium as a component of a novel multilayer film has also been shown to possess
excellent antioxidant properties and potential for meat packaging applications (Vera, et al., 2016).
Selenium nanoparticles were used as a radical scavenging layer between an outer film of PET and an
inner layer of LDPE. As PET effectively prevents the permeation of radicals, while these may cross the

LDPE layer, the active layer was shielded from external radicals and was able to efficiently remove
those formed from oxygen within the package. The use of this laminate structure meant that radicals
could only be neutralized after they had permeated the inner packaging layer, but also that the
packaged food did not com e into direct contact with the nanoparticles. This may reduce the efficacy of
this method compared to methods utilizing direct application of nanomaterials to the insid e of the
packaging material. However, as the scientific discussion concerning the safety of nanotechnology for
food applications has not been concluded, the segregation of food product and nanoparticles may
reduce legal hurdles for the application of this technology while also increasing consumer acceptanc e
(Bumbudsanpharoke & Ko, 2015).

3.3. Intelligent packaging

The function of intelligent packaging systems lies in their detection of changes to the properties
of the packaged product or its environment and their communication to the outside world (J. P. Kerry,

O’Grady, & Hogan, 2006). These systems can be divided into the categories of indicators, sensors and
radio frequency identification (RFID) tags (S. Y . Lee, Lee, Choi, & Hur, 2015). The application of
intelligent packaging systems to the packaging of fresh and processed meat shows great potential as it

is capable of alerting the manufacturer, retailer and consumer to spoilage of the product, which in
these product categories is associated with severe health risks.
3.3.1. Time temperature indicators

The temperature at which fresh and processed meat is stored has an enormous impact on its shelf

life. As the cool chain is not always maintained during distribution of these products or at the retail
and consumption level, time temperature sensors (TTIs) can act as an additional safety precaution
(Mohebi & Marquez, 2015). By employing temperature sensitive compounds, optical changes of
devices such as stickers on the outside of packages are used to indicate when a product has spent a

critical time above a certain temperature. Considerable research into the development of TTIs has
been conducted over the years but novel approaches are still being explored (Realini & Marcos, 2014).
Nemet et al. have developed a recently patented time and temperature dependent tamper-proof
barcode indicator (Nemet, 2014). By printing a barcode using a specialized colouring a gent, the

original, machine readable barcode is altered by the time and temperature dependent migration of the
colour particles. This process gradually transforms the barcode, eventually creating a new version and
making the old version unreadable once a critical time and temperature limit is exceeded. Th e new

machine readable barcode then contains the information that the product is no longer safe for
consumption. By employing this technology in the packaging of fresh and processed meat, an
interruption of the cold chain can easily and very affordably be recognized without exposing the

product to the applied chemical.

An interesting new smart label combining microbial and chemical agents has been developed by
the French company Cryolog (Skinner, 2014). The indicator is contained within a multilayer polymer
sachet, which is connected to the outside of the package a nd consists of a nutrient gel matrix blended
with a culture of Carnobacterium maltaromaticum and the pH indicator acid fuchsin. The temperature
dependent growth of the non-pathogen results in the formation of biogenic amines, which in turn
affect a colour change of the acid fuchsin from green to red. Due to its lack of direct contact with the
food product and the relative safety of its components, the Efsa has deemed this indicator as safe for
external use on food packaging materials (Efsa Panel on Food Contact Materials & Processing, 2013).
The sensitivity of the employed microbial agent limits its use to temperatures between 2 °C and 12 °C
and means that it may be irreversibly compromised in its function if thermally mistreated. However,
the use of bacteria in TTIs has the potential to significantly increase their reliability, as they are
capable of more closely reflecting the growth of microorganisms within the package than are chemical
agents. A close similarity between the Arrhenius temperature dependence of a TTI using lactic acid
bacteria and spoilage bacteria on vacuum packed fresh chicken breast has been demonstrated by Park

et al. (Park, Kim, Jung, Kim, & Lee, 2013). The correlation was particularly high with coliform bacteria
and highlights the advantage of utilizing bacteria as part of a TTI.
TTIs may find broad applicability in the packaging of fresh and processed meat, but are also
limited in their precision, as they only document thermal abuse after the packaging process and fail to
reflect packaging defects and other temperature independent factors influencing shelf life. Innovative
approaches in this category, such as the use of bacteria in TTIs, have the potential to augment other
intelligent systems or be applied to products with specifically temperature dependent spoilage
mechanisms and well controlled pre-packaging conditions.

3.3.2. Freshness indicators

The use of freshness indicators aims to make the quality of a packaged food visible, by detecting

changes taking place because of microbial proliferation and the presence of microbial m etabolites
within the package. In the case of packaged meat, important signs of microbial spoilage include a

reduction of the pH, an increase of the CO2 concentration and the formation of biogenic amines
(Smolander, 2008). Direct detection of microbial spoilage, which constitutes the most important
concern in the category of fresh and processed meat, requires highly selective methods and suitable

critical levels assigned to the respective metabolites or property changes. Also, as this variety of
indicator must be placed inside the packaging or be reachable by the relevant compounds through
migration processes, the practical application of many previously developed systems has proven
difficult (J. P. Kerry, et al., 2006). These have often been based on synthetic and sometimes toxic
substances, which have raised concerns with regard to possible health hazards resulting from their
potential leakage from, or migration through, protective packaging layers into the food product. This

review has found a tendency toward the development of pH indicators in this field, possibly due to
the broad selection of non-hazardous indicators, the ubiquity of pH reducing pathogens as well as the
opportunity for a quantitative indication of spoilage. Therefore, the focus has been placed on systems,
which either use the direct detection of acids produced by microorganisms or those which utilize pH
changes caused by an intermediary, such as CO2.

Numerous recent approaches have explored the potential of natural materials, which would be
safe for use inside the packaging, to be employed as a part of freshness indicators. Lee et al. have
shown the potential of whey protein isolate (WPI) to act as a CO2 indicator (K. Lee & Ko, 2014). Figure

2 shows its operating principle, which is based on a pH reduction within the WPI solution, contained
in a CO2-permeable LDPE sachet, caused by the migration of CO2 from the headspace into the
indicator. The increasing concentration of carbonic acid (H2CO3 ), resulting from the dissolution of

CO2, in the indicator results in a pH reduction, eventually causing the WPI to become irreversibly
insoluble at a pH of approximately 6.0. This in turn causes the indicator sachet to become opaque,
thereby signalizing the spoilage of the product, contained within the package.

Figure 2: Ope rating principle of WPI based CO 2 indicator. (Adapted from K. Le e , e t al. (2014))

An experiment with the indicator sachet at a controlled CO2 concentration showed a

transparency reduction of more than 80%. This enables the sachet to clearly indicate the presence of a
certain CO2 concentration, but its calibration to correctly identify spoilage has not yet been refined.
The research on this particular project is not sufficient for use in a commercial product but
demonstrates the concept of a safe freshness indicator based on natural components for potential use
in the packaging of fresh and processed meat. A fully bio degradable freshness indicator on the basis
of chitosan and anthocyanin has also recently been developed (Yoshida, Maciel, Mendonça, & Franco,
2014). The resulting intelligent film reflects the pH of its environment by changing colour accordingly
and could be us ed to signalize unacceptable quality deterioration. Anthocyanin as a natural pH
indicator reliably changes colour from violet in basic, to bluish-green in neutral and pink in acidic
conditions without the formation of problematic by-products. Research has shown the efficacy of

natural anthocyanins, as for instance extracted from red cabbage, as pH indicators (Pereira Jr, de
Arruda, & Stefani, 2015). Commercialization of this indicator system would require some refining in

order to be easily and unambiguously interpretable by the consumer. The exclusive use of harmless

and natural components in these experiments reflects the gen eral shift to a more natural and
sustainable future, which has also affected the development of intelligent food packaging systems.
Another approach of this kind has been proposed by Liu et al. who have devised an intelligent

biodegradable film which also possesses antimicrobial properties (Liu, Xu, Zhao, Liu, Zhao, & Li,
2017). The film, based on starch and poly -vinyl alcohol (PVA), contained anthocyanins extracted from
purple sweet potatoes for pH indication and limonene for antimicrobial effect. As with the previous
example, this film also changed colour depending on the surrounding pH but was also capable of
effectively suppressing the growth of Bacillus subtilis, Aspergillus niger, and Staphylococcus aureus. The
effectiveness of anthocyanins from sweet potatoes as a natural pH indicator incorporated into a starch
base matrix for use as a freshness indicator, were confirmed by Choi et al. (Choi, Lee, Lacroix, & Han,

2017). This recent development shows great promise for meat packaging applications, as it has the
potential to both control as well as indicate microbial spoilage while also being safe for human
consumption and sustainably producible. However, particularly visible freshness indicators face
barriers in their marketability and clear communication together with customer education by

companies is necessary to affect a modernization of this kind. The viability of newly developed
freshness indicators will also heavily depend upon their reliability and safety as shortcomings in these
areas will easily deter manufacturers from introducing them into their packaging systems (J. P. Kerry,

et al., 2006).

3.3.3. Gas sensors and radio frequency identification tags


Many different sensors with potential for the application in intelligent packaging systems have
been proposed. The great majority of concepts have proved either too expensive, imprecise,

potentially hazardous or otherwise unsuitable for use in food packaging, which expla ins their
currently negligible commercialization (Mohebi, et al., 2015). Gas sensors are one of the groups with
the best prospects for practical application, as they can be produced relat ively cheaply and may
reliably detect certain gasses, the concentrations of which often correlate closely with the advance of
spoilage. As meat spoilage is commonly associated with the production of specific gasses, such as CO2
or H2S, gas sensors may be used to effectively detect changes in their concentrations within a package
and trigger an indication of spoilage if a critical limit is reached (Borchert, Kerry, & Papkovsky, 2013;
Koskela, et al., 2015). As part of the recent research trend towards nano-materials and -technologies,
various innovative nano-based gas sensors with potential applications in the packaging of fresh and
processed meat products have also been developed. A novel approach by Nguyen et al. may provide
a cheap and non-toxic technology for CO2-detection as part of an intelligent packaging system, well
suited for fresh and processed meat (Nguyen, Ta, Hoivik, Halvorsen, & Aasmundtveit, 2013). Carbon
nanotubes were integrated into a silicon based circuit and were able to detect the CO 2 concentration in
the surrounding atmosphere with moderate sensitivity. The precision of the method is expected to be
considerably improvable by modifying the carbon nanotubes with metal oxide after production. For

the purpose of a practical use of this sensor, t he gathered information on the CO2 concentration within
the package, could be converted by a signal processing unit and broadcast by way of a radio
frequency (RF) tag, making it available to the manufacturer, retailer or customer (Kress-Rogers &
ALSTOM, 2001). Such a proposal for the combined use of a gas sensor and an RFID system is outlined
in figure 3 (Meng, Kim, Puligundla, & Ko, 2014).


Figure 3: Schematic design of an inte llige nt packaging system consisting of a se nsor and an RF rece iver .
(Adapte d from Nguye n, e t al. (2013))

Innovative electronic systems such as this have significant potential for meat packaging systems
of the future, as they are capable of recognizing a wide variety of product defects, ranging from
exceeded temperature during distribution to the presence of critical levels of spoilage-associated

compounds within the package. The compromised quality of a product, equipped with this
technology, would automatically trigger a response of the RFID tag, which in turn would flag the
package when scanned at checkout (LIN SEN, Kim, Shin, & Eom, 2013; Want, 2006). Although

technically conceivable, this technology would require significant initial investments and could only
be economically viable if introduced on a large scale, as the necessary components would have to be
mass produced.

4. Potential and weaknesses of novel approaches

Especially the development of novel packaging materials and active packaging systems hold
great potential for the beneficial use of natural substances, such as polysaccharides and proteins,
which have been found to be suitable raw materials for the production of films, sheets and coating.
They are also often capable of enhancing the functionality of natural and synthetic packaging
materials by improving their barrier properties, for instance in the case of whey protein, or by
imparting antimicrobial activity in the case of chitosan. Essential oils and natural extracts have also
been extensively examined for these purposes, often compensating weaknesses of natural packaging
materials by improving their barrier properties towards water vapour or serving as natural
antimicrobial and antioxidant additives in a wide variety of packaging materials. Migration or
unwanted odour or flavour contributions are possible, especially in the case of essential oils. Since the
employed natural compounds are usually safe for human consumption up to relatively high levels

and a reduction of required concentrations is possible by combining different active packaging

methods for synergistic effects, this does not present an insurmountable barrier to their broad
Good results have been achieved by combining essential oils with active packaging technologies
such as MAP. Resulting novel active MAP for instance permits the use of high oxygen levels for the
preservation of colour in fresh meats, while still protecting the product from oxidative processes
through the presence of these natural antioxidants and assisting in the suppression of microbial
proliferation. The synergy effects resulting from this combination have the potential to significantly
extend the shelf life and improve the quality of a broad variety of m eat products. Also, a reduction of
processing intensity or synthetic additives through the use of natural compounds and synergy effects
has the potential to lower production costs while increasing product quality a nd enabling the

manufacture of “clean label” products (Tarté, 2009).
Nanomaterials may be used to achieve the same objectives and are therefore also being

investigated for their functional attributes. Ongoing research in this area has produced good results,

effectively reducing oxidative or microbial spoilage while enabling a reduction of additive
concentration. Because of legal barriers and possible health risks, more research will have to be
conducted before specific additives in nano form ca n be allowed for wide spread application. This is

particularly important when these additives are in direct contact with or incorporated into the product
(Wyser, et al., 2016). Commercial products must also be tested to establish migration levels of active
compounds, such as silver particles, out of functional packaging materials as their implications on
human health are not fully understood and their unintentional consumption with the product should
be minimized (Pezzuto, et al., 2015).
Similarly, microbial agents may have potential as effective tools for the suppression of pathogens
but regulatory issues and low consumer acceptance may prevent their commercial use in the near

future. Also, technical details such as the efficacy of packaging-embedded bacteriophages and
possible detrimental sensory effects caused by competitive microorganisms must be address ed before
these approaches can be commercialized.
The category of corrective responsive packaging systems has been omitted in this paper, due to

the overwhelming dominance of other active packaging solutions. As the latter provide protection of
the product from the beginning, without requiring specific triggers for activation, and are
considerably simpler to develop, the majority of current research is concentrated on these more

pragmatic approaches. Efforts in the area of intelligent packaging are being made to create more
natural, non-hazardous systems for spoilage indication. If these are developed to a point at which they
can be regarded as sufficiently reliable, these systems may provide a cheap and safe alternative to

some of the synthetic systems which are currently available. As they could more easily attain approval
in highly regulated countries, such as EU member states, broad application of devices like the whey-
based CO2 indicator may soon be possible. Due to the sensitivity of such biological ma terials,
additional research will be necessary to develop easily usable, stable and reliable systems on their

basis. TTIs which do not have to be placed inside the package can avoid much of the approval
problems faced by internally used devices as they do not come into contact with the product.
However, as they only offer a very limited indication of freshness when used on their own, novel
indicator systems, which use them in combination with other indicator technologies, show greater
promise for practical application. Also, the use of synthetic indicator systems may challenge existing
recycling practices, as already faced in the case of multilayer packaging. The latter issue has already
attracted the attention of researchers such as Fávaro et al., who suggest the use of supercritical ethanol
for the separation of multilayer food packaging from PET and aluminium (Fávaro, et al., 2013).
Innovations such as this will be a necessary consequence of the ubiquitous use of synthetic indicators,
but also of mixed packagin g made from biodegradable and recyclable materials as already explored
by Cinelli, et al. (2016).

5. Conclusions and outlook


The key subjects of current packaging research for meat applications can be divided into the
groups of material development or optimization, active and in telligent packaging approaches. The
development of sustainable, yet functional packaging materials is focused on the use of natural
materials, the bulk components of which should ideally be derived from waste streams of the food
industry for added efficiency. Natural additives, such as essential oils or functional proteins, show
great potential to enhance the properties of bio based and synthetic materials alike. Concerning active
packaging, a trend toward the use of combination approaches with several functional packaging
elements and a transition to the predominant use of natural additives is evident. This category is well
positioned to improve its effectiveness through the use of combination methods such as novel active
MAP, thereby moving meat packaging one step closer to a reliably safe future. Therefore, active
packaging represents the area with the greatest potential for quality and safety improvements in the

category of fresh and processed meat, which is inherently problematic with regard to microbial
spoilage and shelf life. Intelligent packaging may also play a vital role in the future by allowing the

retailer and consumer to monitor the product conditions and prevent the sale or consumption of

spoiled meat. Active packaging solutions cannot be relied upon to guarantee optimal product quality,
partly due to potential abuse or packaging failure. Intelligent packaging solutions could provide the
needed support to identify failures, thereby compensating the shortcomings of constantly improving

protective packaging elements. Improving established methods like MAP with the us e of natural
substances or nanomaterials and experimenting with bio based or intelligent packaging systems are
small steps in the gradual evolution of meat packaging systems. Fang et al. have stated in a review
paper that due to the complexity and diversity of the challenges facing the meat packaging technology
of today, “a multidisciplinary approach involving researchers from different disciplines (e.g. meat
science, microbiology, and material science) working together with the packaging industry is
necessary”(Fang, Zhao, Warner, & Johnson, 2017). A revolution in this area seems unlikely, as it

would be quickly hampered by regulatory restrictions and a possible decline of cons umer acceptance.
Recently devised bio based indicators and packaging materials , together with active compounds such
as essential oils, may soon enable the developm ent of an entirely biodegradable, active and intelligent
packaging system, which may exceed in functionality many of the conventional systems in existence

today. Universal adoption of such a technology would achieve greater food safety as well as
maximum sustainability but especially due to resistance at the retail and consumer level it is a long
road yet to attaining such a goal.

Conflicts of Interest: The author de clares no conflict of inte re st



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- Active packaging solutions show great potential for meat packaging solutions
- Natural functional additives are being used in novel approaches to extend shelf-life
- Current research activities aim on enhancing the safety and quality of packed meat
- Fundamental innovations still require more research for broad application