Author: dr. Veronika Hedvig Tabajdi-Pintér
Packaging plays an important role in ensuring the high quality of foods produced, and also in maintaining it for longer and longer times. Quality requirements for modern food packaging materials are increasing continuously, year by year. The requirements for packaging, in terms of microbiology, are the following: they should provide protection against microbiological spoilage and microbiological contamination of the environment, prevent contamination of the food by pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms and, last, but not least, it is important for packaging materials not to be carriers of microorganisms.
For the foods contained in them, packaging materials have to ensure the right humidity and/or gas composition (right permeability), prevention of microbiological corrosion,
resistance to preservation procedures and material handling, inhibition of the proliferation of the microorganisms found in the product, and credible information of consumers about the quality and quantity of the packaged food, as well as its date of minimum durability or use-by-date. From an environmental protection point of view, it is a further requirement for non-recyclable packaging materials to be biodegradable. Microorganisms also play a significant role in the decomposition.
As a result of packaging, the microecological environment of the food changes, having a significant impact on the bacterial population of the food and, accordingly, both
quality and food safety parameters, thus affecting the date of minimum durability. It is because changing the environmental factors necessary for microbial propagation
(water activity, pH, rH, °C) can lead to the slowing down or ceasing of the prpopagation. With my paper, I would like to draw attention to the microbiological
effects of packaging and packaging materials.
As a motto, let me quote Albert Szent-Gyorgyi:
„The cleanliness of air, its moisture content and temperature, noise and excitement, the amount of physical work are all very important. But, in our relationship with our environment, one of the most fundamental factors is food, because our environment enters our bodies most directly in the form of foods.”
30% of the food produced worldwide is discarded, so 1.3 million tons of food ends up in the trash annually. According to FAO data, there are 1 billion people starving in the world, even though the discarded food could satisfy the daily food needs of up to 3 billion people. The WHO estimates that the number of illnesses related to food consumption increases continuously, and it affects 10 to 30% of the population annually even in industrialized countries .
According to the most important requirements for foods, they should be harmless, of good quality (excellent sensory characteristics, adequate nutritional value) and economically producible. There is a strong correlation between these requirements and the microbiological state of foods. Our foods and their raw materials serve as nutrients not only for humans, but also for microorganisms. Microbes are important players in food quality, not only as its useful producers in a variety of biotechnological
processes, but also as causes of spoilage and threats to safety. The latter ones affect almost all quality characteristics of foods, directly perceivable external properties (color, odor, flavor, texture), as well as hidden internal ones (composition, nutritional value, toxicology). Harmful pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms can endanger food safety and spoilage-free shelf-life, from raw materials, across the whole spectrum of processing and distribution, from farm to fork.
*Presented at the conference titled „Analysis of food contact materials”, October 01, 2015.
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