Packaging

Protective Wraps for Meat

Materials designed for wrapping meat have specific functional qualities, including low moisture/vapor transmission rates, heat shrink ability, stretch, pliability, strength and the ability to retain their protective characteristics over a wide range of temperatures and conditions. 

Films for fresh meat packaging are designed to allow a small amount of oxygen to pass through the film, thus maintaining the oxymyoglobin that gives meat its fresh red color. Meat cuts wrapped in plastic film at the market can be safely stored in the home refrigerator, provided they are used within a few days. Although film-wrapped packages can be frozen as purchased for up to a week or two, the light  plastic film is not designed to protect  against surface dehydration, commonly  known as “freezer burn” Rewrapping  or overwrapping meat in a material  designed for use in the freezer is a  must prior to freezing it. 

Some transparent wraps and food storage bags are specifically designed to be impervious to oxygen, thus making them suitable for freezer storage of meat. The package label indicates those that can be used for freezing. Any time protective wraps or bags are used, as much air as possible should be removed before sealing.  Freezer paper, commonly sold in supermarkets, is coated on one side with plastic or wax.

Freezer paper is suitable for freezer storage because it creates a moisture and vapor—proof barrier. The waxed or plastic-coated side should go against the surface of the meat, and the outside of the package can be marked with the name of the meat cut, number of portions, weight and/or freezer date. Freezer tape should be used to fasten and close the package.  Package tears are a potential problem with bone-in cuts. Sharp bone edges should be covered with interleafing paper or small pieces of freezer paper prior to overwrapping. A double layer of interleafing paper should be used between cuts when more than one cut is wrapped to facilitate separating the frozen or partially frozen cuts for cooking. The brown and white papers often  used to wrap meat at service counters  are not coated with plastic or wax, and  are not designed to protect frozen foods.  Therefore, meat purchased in such paper wraps should be rewrapped before freezing. 

Foil can tear easily, but provides an excellent moisture and vapor—proof barrier if properly used. It is especially well suited to odd-shaped products. Foil- wrapped meat should be identified and dated on freezer tape attached around the package so that it can be used within the appropriate storage time.

Type of Packaging

Tradition Overwrap Packaging - Approximately two-thirds of fresh meat sold is packaged with store wrap. Store wrap uses a foam tray which holds the meat and an absorbent pad wrapped with a clear atmosphere permeable plastic film. The permeability characteristics of the film allow oxygen from the air to come in contact with the meat. This type of packaging is very economical and utilized cost-effective equipment. However, it has the shortest case life because the meat is continuously exposed to oxygen.

Vacuum Packaging - Today, vacuum packaging is the primary method of protecting the color, flavor and overall quality of processed meat from oxygen.  The general procedure is to remove all air from the immediate environment of the product and hermetically seal the product within its package before allowing the product to be re-exposed to the atmosphere.  The simplest industrial machine available for this purpose is the vacuum chamber machine.  It is designed to work with preformed bags or pouches where the product is inserted into the bag or pouch before placing into a clam shell chamber. 

Modified Atmosphere Packaging- Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) was commercialized in the 1960’s.  As the name implies the environment or atmosphere surrounding the product inside its package is modified.  Purified gases of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen or carbon monoxide are the only gases permitted by the USDA for MAP applications.  Thus, the atmospheres commonly used are mixtures of these gases.  The primary purpose of MAP was to provide similar protection as vacuum packaging to delicate products that are typically damaged or crushed by a vacuum package.

  • Types of MAP
    • Vacuum
    • Oxygen/CO2,Nitrogen
    • High Oxygen/ Low Oxygen
    • Carbon Monoxide
    • Peelable Films
    • Master Bag

Shrink Bags - Preformed shrink bags are the package of choice for raw meat primals and subprimals.  Additionally they are a popular choice for large roasts and meat logs sold to the food service markets. During the packaging procedure at the meat plant, the bag is shrunk after packaging by dipping the product into hot water; or by cascading hot  water over the product in a shrink tunnel.

Chub - A type of package, typically in tubular form, that is sealed on both ends with clips (metal or polymer) rather than heat.

Sources:

  • Lessons on Meat

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