Breakthrough in fresh red meat
Winner of the Diamond award in this year’s DuPont competition was FreshCase technology from Curwood. This is not the first major award for FreshCase this year. It also won a Gold Award in the annual competition sponsored by the Flexible Packaging Association.
FreshCase is described as the first-ever vacuum package for red meat that maintains the meat’s appetizing color. Other methods of vacuum packaging red meat deprive the meat of oxygen and consequently cause the meat to darken to almost a purple color. And U.S. consumers don’t like that color when it comes to fresh red meat.
The secret to FreshCase is that its meat-contact layer includes sodium nitrite. Enzymes in the meat come in contact with the sodium nitrite to produce nitric oxide gas, which, Curwood points out, is part of ordinary human cell activity. The nitric oxide gas combines with myoglobin in the meat to give the meat the fresh red color with which consumers are familiar.
FreshCase packaging also extends shelf life 10-times longer than store-wrapped meat. The combination of longer shelf life and more appetizing appearance promises to both reduce food waste and increase the availability of proteins in areas further away from food sources.
As an alternative for modified atmosphere (MAP) master packs and packages using EPS/PVC resin technology that dominate the case-ready meat segment, FreshCase enables 75% less mark-downs/waste than store-wrapped meats. It produces less landfill waste and reduces packaging materials up to 75%, compared to other case-ready formats, thereby improving sustainability, according to Curwood.
Packaging World presented its FPA coverage of FreshCase partially through the perspective of Dallas-based Paty Meats (one of the first meat marketers to commercialize the technology) and a supermarket customer of theirs by the name of H.E.B. For our DuPont Awards coverage, PW asked if another meat marketer might be willing to share a few thoughts about this award-winning film breakthrough. That meat marketer is Unger Meat Co. of Vadnais Heights, MN. Unger is shipping its vacuum-packaged ground beef to Minnesota-based supermarket customer Coborn’s.
“We saw FreshCase when it was being introduced at a trade show, and right away we liked how red it made the beef look,” says Jeremy Turnquist, vice president of opera- tions at Unger Meat. “We had tried vacuum packaging of fresh ground beef for the retail channel in the past, and it just didn’t work because consumers don’t want to see beef that is any other color than red.”
Unger produces its FreshCase packages on a Multivac thermoform/seal machine. Prior to the arrival of FreshCase film, the Multivac was already in use at the plant for vacuum-packaged beef products that were being sold through the foodservice channel. With foodservice customers, the issue of color is not nearly as important as it is in the retail channel.
According to Turnquist, the Curwood material was a “drop-in” replacement for the materials that had been in use before. “We use the sodium nitrite component in both the forming web and the nonforming top web. “Both machine well on our Multivac, where our depth of draw is between one and two inches.”
Thus far, Unger does only ground beef in the FreshCase format and only retail channels are involved. Refrigerated shelf life is 21 days, which Turnquist describes as “huge.”
“It’s an addition of seven days, which means a lot to the supermarket when it comes to managing inventory and reducing shrink and stock outs,” says Turnquist.