Packaging of Fresh and Processed Meat

By Mr. T.M. Malik; Ms. Richichandra Tiwari *

Fresh meat requires presence of oxygen for maintaining colour for consumer appeal with a shorter shelf life. Whereas; cured meats degrade in presence of oxygen. Two decisions are important while selecting packaging material i.e. shape or form and material. Various factors which decide the type of packaging material to be used are colour, stability, storage conditions, microbial condition, preservatives and degree of processing.

Processed MeatBrand labelling, distribution time/shelf-life, package size and cost, pre-market pricing also play an important role. Processed products require more sophisticated and extensive packaging because they will be stored at higher temperatures for longer periods than refrigerated products.

The packaging materials used from earlier times are:

Modern Technologies

The above listed packaging materials were used when the sector was not booming that much. But as the society is getting advanced day by day, people are getting more and more aware about the safety and quality aspects of the product they are consuming. the demand for nutritious, natural, safe, healthy and fresh-tasting products is growing in demand.

As the market for processed foods is booming day by day, competition among different players has also paced up. Consumers are getting a varied range of products from which they can go for the most suitable and convenient product.

As far as the meat products are concerned, it is very important to maintain the quality as well as the safety of the meat product. So, it is necessary to design a packaging material which helps in controlling and maintaining the quality of the product until it reaches its final destination. The issues which are to be taken care of are:

  • Meat colour (influencing consumer purchasing decision and myoglobin content of the meat);
  • Lipid oxidation ( leads to changes in flavour, colour and texture of the product);
  • Meat ph (depicting the percentage of glycogen in the meat);
  • Water activity (primary factor leading to pathogenic growth);
  • Temperature (influencing the nutritional, quality as well as sensory properties of the product).

So nowadays, manufacturers are incorporating and developing new technologies for their products so that they are able to make their product their more competent. This is beneficial as consumer’s point of view as they are getting a good quality product at a feasible price, with a varied range of products to choose from.

The latest technologies generally in picture nowadays are:

Thermoforming Films

They are most preferable packaging material according to consumers as it is easy to open, takes less space in the refrigerator and keep the meat fresh. It is further classified into:

Polyamide Film: Used for packing meat and meat products in multi-layer films having good heat resistant properties;

Polyolefin Film: The two main polyolefin used are polyvinyl chloride and polyethylene with high barrier properties against oxygen and water vapour;

Polyester Film: Having good resistance towards temperature variations and high mechanical strengths.

Vacuum Packaging

Processed MeatIn this packaging technique air is substantially removed from the package before sealing. This helps in minimizing the contact of food with oxygen which can leads to deterioration of the product. Oxygen can lead to development of off flavours, lipid oxidation leading to rancidity which finally degrades the quality of the product. The most commonly used vacuum packaging materials are EVOH,PA, EVA and PET-PVdC.

Processed MeatSome examples of vacuum packed meat are:

Some other developments regarding vaccum packaging are:

  • Low oxygen conditions under vacuum packaging can minimize oxidative deterioration of meat and inhibit aerobic microbial growth.Also,in order to extend meat display life using nitriteembedded film (NEF) are used.
  • Antioxidant/antimicrobial agents such as essential oils from edible and medicinal plants, herbs and spices are used in vaccumpackages. They possess antioxidant and antimicrobial functions and could serve as a source for active agents against food spoilage and deterioration;

Modified Atmosphere Packaging

Processed MeatThis technique is used to inhibit growth of spoilage microorganisms and assist in maintaining high quality. In this, air in the package is removed and exchanged with a gas of different composition. The most commonly used gases in MAP are oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitrogen (N2).

  • Carbon Dioxide (a bacteriostatic agent which retard the growth of aerobic microorganisms and increase the shelf life);
  • Oxygen (reduce the risk of anaerobic growth and toxin production in meat, so selection of an appropriate oxygen level is a critical factor to keep the high quality of MAP meat, retain meat colour);
  • Nitrogen (relatively inert gas which neither supports the growth of aerobic microorganisms nor inhibits the growth of anaerobic bacteria, prevent oxidation of fats and pack collapse);
  • Noble gases.

Some of the packaging materials are listed below:

Processed Meat

Sometimes low dose irradiation (lower than 10 kGy), as well as antimicrobials are used along with MAP.

Active Packaging

This is any packaging system that protects food from contamination or degradation, by creating a barrier to outside conditions, while interacting with the internal environment to control the atmosphere within the package.

Processed Meat

Some agents used are:

Processed Meat


They are made up of proteins, polysaccharides and lipids. They are located on the food surface or as thin layers between several parts within the product with the aim of improving overall food quality and extending shelf-life.

Biodegradable Packaging

Materials derived primarily from renewable sources such as replenishable agricultural feed stocks, animal sources, marine food processing industry wastes, or microbial sources, and can break down to produce environmentally friendly products such as carbon dioxide, water, and quality compost.

Biodegradable packaging produced from cornstarch, linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), and citric acid (CA) for beef packaging was developed by Junior et al. (2014).Kanatt et al. (2014) prepared films from chitosan (Ch) and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) containing aqueous mint extract (ME)/pomegranate peel extract (PE).


As time passes on, more advancement will come into picture. It is just the beginning of a better, sophisticated and advanced packaging system. The acceptability for such products will also increase, meeting the demands of people. The products available to them will be fresher and feasible, with quality and safety of the product gong hand in hand.

* Deputy Director, IIP Mumbai; Food Technologist, PGDP


  • Emerging Technologies in Meat Processing: Production, Processing and Technology
    edited by Enda J. Cummins, James G. Lyng
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