Food preservation in a modified atmosphere: some food for thought

The growing world demand for food has highlighted the necessity of both reducing food waste during distribution and consumption (in countries with advanced economies, it is estimated that about 30% of food is lost at this stage) and improving preservation techniques to maintain the nutritional characteristics of foodstuffs. These requests, together with the changes in life styles and consumption models, have promoted the development of specific preservation techniques including the packaging of food in modified or protective atmosphere (MAP).

MAP is based on the principle of replacing the air in the packaging with a pre-determined gas mixture. MAP technology can be applied to various types of fresh and processed foods.

As packaging gases are food additives according to art.20 paragraph b of the EU regulations no. 1169/2011, they are not to be considered as ingredients of the packaged food and, consequently, they are not required to be listed among the ingredients. The only information required is that the packages are marked with “packaged in a protective atmosphere”. The gases most frequently used for MAP are oxygen (O2), nitrogen (N2), carbon dioxide (CO2) and Argon (Ar).

The type of gas mixture, its production, and the kind of packaging used are all important factors in modifying the shelf-life duration and, in some cases, even some qualitative characteristics of the food itself.