In recent times, as we advance to a more modern style of living, people are also becoming more and more dependent on packaged food. It is easier to get packaged food from the restaurants or get ready to eat meals from the nearby supermarket.
With this trend increasing on a day to day basis due to work stress and other engagements, it is not only important to test the food and water we consume for any contaminants but also test the packaging material that they are stored in or packed in.
What if the packaging material used reacts with the food? What if that packaging is not the right one for a particular kind of food? What if the packaging is not adequate that the food gets spoiled or rancid?
Choosing the right packaging is as important as preparing the food itself. Food that is being stored in these packaging containers could get infused with any impurities and contaminants that are present on the packaging material.
The packaging should not only preserve the integrity and quality of the food item but also be safe and free from harmful contaminants. That is why it is very important to conduct quality control tests for packaging material as well.
Packaging materials are classified into two major categories, such as primary and secondary. Primary packaging material includes plastic bottles, polymer-coated foils, vitals, and ampoules. Secondary packing material includes cartons, labels, and leaflets.
The primary factors/ components that are considered to set the quality control standard are appearance, dimensions, compatibility & customer usability, and chemical testing.
The first parameter being appearance, needs to be categorized as major or minor to pass the quality control test for packaging material, and if the Acceptable Quality Limit (AQL) is set to critical defects, then it is not acceptable.
The second parameter being dimensions can be set to critical and non-critical. Under the critical dimensions, there are flange depth, flange diameter, plug diameter, vial heights, thickness, etc., of the vial, rubber plug, and aluminium overseal.
The common instruments used to measure the dimensions of the vial, rubber plug, and the aluminium overseal are optical projectors, calipers fitted with special jaws and micrometers.
The next parameter, which is compatibility and customer usability, defines that the nozzle that is being fit into the bottles must pass the one drop at a time test, and also, the cap should be easily removable by the customers.
Lastly, chemical testing has to be passed in order for the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to approve the packaging material. Some of the important chemical tests that are conducted are the hydrolytic resistance test, water attack test, powdered glass test, light transmission test, and arsenic test.
In the case of glass packaging material, there are additional tests that need to be undergone like the thermal shock test, internal bursting pressure test, annealing test, vertical load test, and autoclaving.
The secondary components of packaging being paper and board, also undergo certain tests such as compression test, carton opening force, coefficient of friction, crease stiffness, and joint shear strength.
The results of all these tests combined will determine if the packaging material is suitable for the food item and safe for the consumers as well as the environment or not.
In addition to the quality control tests for packaging material, the food testing labs also ensure that the food will not react with the packaging material.
They also assist in estimating the shelf life of the food inside the packaging containers and help in preparing the nutritional labels that get printed on the packaging. The printed labels do not just contain nutritional information but also have information on how to store the product, how to consume the product, and the best before date.
In the current day, it is also necessary to determine if the packaging material is eco friendly or not. Wherever possible, it is highly important to use recyclable material or biodegradable material for packaging.
The plastic used for packaging water are single-use plastics and are harmful if reused. Awareness about the reuse and recycling of these packaging materials should be given extra attention by the manufacturers and the FSSAI.