Physical Protection

During distribution, the packages are exposed to physical abuses caused by shock, vibration, compression, or handling. The food packaging system must provide physical protection for the food package as well as facilitate safe and cost-effective product distribution. The important considerations in designing for distribution protection are the distribution environment and product fragility.

The distribution environment consists of all the events (including handling, storage, and transportation) that the food package encounters before consumer usage. The most important considerations in defining the distribution environment are shock, vibration, and compression (6). Severe shocks occur most likely when the package is dropped. Shock protection is often defined in terms of the most severe drop height to protect against, and this drop height is often selected based on the size and weight of the package as well as the probability of being dropped. Vibration occurs most likely during transportation, and the transportation vibration environment is often complex and random in nature. To protect the package from vibrational damage, the resonant frequencies of the package must be identified and protected against. Compression occurs most likely during warehousing and shipping. Static compression is determined by applying a load very slowly, and dynamic compression is determined by applying the load rapidly.

Product fragility describes the susceptibility of the product (the food and the package) to physical abuses, and it can be evaluated by product performance tests and packaging material tests (7). Product performance tests (such as drop test, incline impact test, vibration test, compression test, and burst test) are performed with the final package to ensure it can survive during distribution. The final package may be a food tray or a corrugated box containing several food trays. Packaging material tests (such as tensile test, Izod impact test, and creep test) are performed with the packaging materials. The properties of the packaging materials (such as tensile strength and tensile modulus) obtained from these tests are used to extrapolate the performance of the final package.

In addition to distribution, the manufacturing operations (such as forming, heat sealing, and retorting) can also cause physical stresses to the food package. During forming, the packaging material may be stretched into another shape (such as from a plastic sheet into a multicompartment tray). During heat sealing, the package is exposed to the heat of the sealing bar. During retorting of the packaged food product, the package is exposed to high temperature and pressure. These physical stresses may cause the package to break, deform, or develop leaks.

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