Consumers need better packaging education, scientist says

Consumers need to be better educated about packaging systems that could improve the eating quality of meat and reduce waste, a leading meat scientist has said.

Dr Ian Richardson of the University of Bristol presented the results of the latest studies into the effects of packaging on the quality and shelf-life of beef at last week’s Eblex processor conference. He told delegates that newer packaging could be adopted which could enhance quality and prolong shelf-life, but it would be necessary to ensure consumers were not resistant to change.

He said: “This works if you want to reduce shelf packs, but it would be difficult to change to anything other than MA packaging in the UK, as consumers are so used to it. The consumer wants red meat, so how do you persuade meat processors and retailers to change?”

Richardson pointed out that Marks & Spencer had successfully convinced customer to accept its vacuum skin packaging (VSP) and that promotional work was key in convincing consumers.

“While consumers may complain about the excessive use of packaging, it is this packaging that maintains the shelf-life of meat,” he said. He pointed out that the life cycle carbon analysis of a piece of beef in a pack is 100-200 times the life cycle analysis of the pack itself. “So we need to save the meat in the pack, not just cut back on packaging,” he said.

WRAP, the organisation that helps businesses and individuals reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way, had previously estimated that meat made up the largest component (by value) of food wasted after purchase, while Richardson said a further 7,000 tonnes of meat, worth around £35m per year do not make it to sale, and are thought to be wasted in-store.

The research, conducted by the University of Bristol team in conjunction with Defra-Link and other partners,  investigated the amount of waste at different stages of the supply chain from packaging to point-of-sale, as well as looking at different packaging to determine the optimum packaging to preserve meat quality and shelf-life.

The study found the ratio of gas to meat in MAP was not important, as long as the oxygen concentration was not reduced. It said that pack sizes could be reduced, introducing savings of gas, plastic and space during transit or display, but if the meat touched the pack’s surface, discolouration would occur, leading to a deterioration in the colour shelf-life of the meat. It found that packaging systems that employed double top layers, such as Mirabella from Sealvac, where the layer directly over the meat is gas permeable, prevented this problem, effectively reducing the volume of gas to meat ratio, from 3:1 (thought to be the optimum for quality) to 0.6:1.

The study also examined the alternatives to MA packaging, including vacuum skin packaging (VSP) for retail portions and VSP-permeable packaging, which allows meat to bloom. Richardson argued that while ageing meat reduces its shelf-life, and the longer meat is aged, the more it loses its ability to withstand oxidisation, aged meat packed in VSP continued to tenderise.

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