WHILE MAP (Modified Atmospheric Packaging) is not new, it is becoming more widespread as manufacturers and retailers in the food and beverage industry are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits it brings, not only to their businesses but also to their customers.
This is according to Arthi Govender, Specialty Gas Sales Manager at Air Products, a leader in the supply and distribution of speciality gases and gas technology to South African industries.
“The demand for MAP products is on the increase. The more food manufacturers experience the benefits of MAP, the more awareness is created, and the more it becomes an important part of their supply chain,” Govender says.
“The benefits of MAP extend from producer and manufacturer, to retailer and ultimately to the consumer,” Govender continues. “By extending the shelf life of a food product, MAP translates into convenience, and a more appealing, fresher product. For the retailer, MAP means less spoilage, lower inventory and better distribution efficiencies.”
MAP technology uses three main gases to enhance the shelf life of a product: oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Used in various carefully controlled combinations, or mixtures, according to the application or product, the levels of these gases in the atmosphere surrounding the food product are altered in order to enhance the appearance and freshness of the product.
“In simple terms, the composition of the atmosphere (air) surrounding food is modified according to the type of food, in order to extend its shelf life,” Govender says, dispelling any misconception that MAP is in any way controversial or risky. She likens the process to using an oxygen mask to assist breathing.
“MAP does not affect the product in any way other than modifying the surrounding air. There is no artificial enhancement – it is entirely natural. However, it also means that it will not improve an already inferior product – in other words, it does not make a product that might be bad for consumption, good for consumption.”
The science of shelf life extension and improving presentation is based on extensive laboratory research, and is subject to the most stringent health and safety standards. In this way, Air Products is able to offer a value-added service to its clients and customers.
“Our team of product specialists includes a qualified Food Technologist with vast experience in the food industry. We are therefore able to advise the customer on GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and hygiene issues, as well as assist with customer trials. With the use of technology, such as an oxybaby (a handheld device which analyses modified atmospheres in packages) we are able to verify the gas results in each package,” says Govender.
Air Products liaises closely with retailers and producers, while also building up strong relationships with packaging suppliers and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). The company also works closely with research institutes in identifying the best atmosphere for each individual application.
“Quality and consistency of product take precedence in our offering, and a key part of the value chain is to be able to assure our customers of the most stringent safety standards,” notes Josua le Roux, General Manger: Central Support at Air Products South Africa.
Air Products’ facilities are all ISO-certified, and the company decided on voluntary compliance to ISO 22 000, the international standard which deals specifically with food safety management.
“It means that we are able to offer much more than just gas,” Govender says. “Based on our upgraded ISO 22 000-certified facilities and solid experience in the food industry, we are able to offer a complete packaging solution for all our clients.”
ISO 22 000 is a risk management system for any type of food processing, which can be closely incorporated with the quality management system ISO 9001, already in place at Air Products. ISO 22 000 includes communication and systems management, pre-requisite programmes as well as the HAPPC (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) principles.
“Communication along the food supply chain is essential to ensure that all food safety hazards are identified and controlled at each step along the way,” says Govender.
Responding appropriately to increased market demand for MAP technology has been a critical part of Air Products’ strategy, according to le Roux.
“Apart from adhering to international standards, we have developed and upgraded our production facilities, and increased inventory to match demand. This all means we can ensure next-day delivery of pre-mix gases.”
In a world that is becoming increasingly health-conscious in its outlook, the demand for MAP by producers and consumers alike looks set to continue.
“The appeal of MAP is that it retains the quality, texture and appearance of food by entirely natural means - that means no additives, or preservatives.”
“At the end of the day, a longer shelf-life and a delicious, healthy product benefits everyone. As a leader in MAP technology, Air Products can offer not only expertise in the field, but utmost safety assurance along the entire food supply chain,” concludes le Roux.