Hard-to-Handle Ingredients? Packaging Engineers Can Help

By: Dr. Luke Grocholl1, Stacy Kingston2,
1Quality Assurance Supervisor, Sigma-Aldrich Flavors and Fragrances
2Stacy Kingston, Senior Packaging Engineer

Introducing Hard-to-Handle Ingredients

Flavors and Fragrances (F&F) are universal in the modern food and beverage industry. Careful scientific analysis, dedicated testing and sometimes sheer luck have identified and produced thousands of F&F ingredients to enhance our dining experience. While commonly used at parts per million (ppm) levels in finished goods, in their pure, concentrated forms, these ingredients may be difficult to handle, store and transport. Some ingredients may present corrosive or oxidation hazards, or can react dangerously with other materials. While an ingredient may be essential to the end-product’s formulation, difficulty in handling can introduce supply chain risks. These risks must be carefully managed if the safety of personnel and product integrity are to be maintained.

Manufacturers with skilled packaging engineers are best equipped to provide solutions for hard-to-handle materials. This paper provides an example of a hard-to-handle material and a look into the role of a packaging engineer.

Acetaldehyde

As a flavor ingredient, Acetaldehyde poses significant handling challenges. Naturally occurring in foods such as ripe fruit, coffee, and bread; it is a common flavor ingredient in fruit beverages, enhancing flavors and freshness. In its pure form, however, acetaldehyde is highly volatile which can lead to dangerous pressure build up. This pressure can cause storage containers to distort or rupture and also creates a potentially hazardous situation for individuals attempting to open the container. In addition, acetal­dehyde can form unwanted paraldehyde when exposed to the heat during summer transport from supplier warehouses.

Despite the handling challenges of acetaldehyde, it is a very important flavor ingredient to the food and beverage industry. The challenges presented by acetaldehyde can be overcome with proper packaging. Fortunately for the F&F industry, there are dedicated experts who determine the best packaging options to safely ship materials around the world without risk or compromising the flavor. Packaging engineers develop the solutions to ship hard-to-handle materials across the street or around the world.

What is a Packaging Engineer?

Packaging engineers, sometimes called packaging scientists, are specialist engineers. In order to confidently work with F&F ingredients, they often require a strong background in chemistry. This experience provides invaluable insight into the chemical and physical properties of ingredients and the best methods for handling and packaging to ensure they arrive safely and quality is maintained. Packaging engineers must be familiar with the compatibility of different compounds, and pay close attention to ingredient and packaging component interactions to avoid unwanted reactions.

A packaging engineer will draw on their chemical knowledge to determine the best packaging to meet the customer’s needs. They work closely with compliance managers, who complement the packaging engineer’s product knowledge with a comprehensive understanding of the global regulatory standards for each ingredient. Depending on where the product is sourced, and its end destination, there may be different regulations to be met.

Packaging Engineers Offer Support

Packaging engineers use a set of guidelines based on each material’s physical properties to assist in the selection of its ideal packaging configuration for the intended mode of transportation.

There are numerous factors packaging engineers take into consideration:

  • Scale: The amount of ingredient in each unit. The packaging that works for 50 grams may not be ideal for 25 kilograms.
  • Physical properties: How dense is the material? What is the vapor pressure?
  • Chemical properties: Does it have a stench? Is it light sensitive? Is it a lachrymator, corrosive or otherwise hazardous? Does it interact with any materials that are commonly used in packaging?
  • End use (e.g. food or cosmetic): Is the packaging aligned with the end use requirements? (For example, glass may be acceptable in an R&D lab, but may not be in a manufac­turing environment).
  • Shelf life: Will the packaging and shipping conditions adversely impact the product’s long term stability?

These aspects are the determining factors for the type of packaging to be used. Some packaging options include a bottle and cap, a drum, or a bag-in-box; choosing the right one for each circumstance comes down to the input of an informed packaging engineer and their team.

Pack Selection and Testing

In some cases, customers may have specific packaging requests to enable products fit their own processing lines, or to meet industry-specific regulatory requirements. For example, although glass is extremely compatible with most ingredients, customers in the food sector request plastic or metal containers to reduce the risk of broken glass in their processing facilities.

Metal packaging might be the go-to solution if there are issues such as chemical or physical reactions with plastic, leading to decomposition, discoloration, or contamination. Odors diffusing through plastic may be another reason to consider metal containers. An over-pack, such as a box, can or carton around a bottle, is sometimes appropriate to provide additional protection.

Once the best solution has been identified, the packaging configuration integrity must be tested. Generally, the final design will be subjected to a drop test, where the package is dropped from a height of at least six feet in five different directions – top, bottom, both sides and onto the corner. After the drop test, the overall package is then inspected for over-pack integrity failures and product container leakages.

Once a package design is validated for transportation safety, it will be used to ship the product to the customer. In the case that any issues are identified in the final testing phases, it will be sent back to the packaging engineer for re-evaluation.

Other Considerations

Customers have been more driven towards environmentally friendly packaging than ever before. In the past, large containers would generally be plastic drums or metal drums with a liner. Now, there is a push towards industrial strength, lined, corrugated cardboard boxes that are more readily recyclable. Custom packaging also allows specific quantities to be ordered, decreasing the amount of waste and further enhancing environ­mental sustainability.

Global shipping regulations, particularly airfreight or overseas transportation, add an additional level of security, with more stringent tests and regulations than are required for road transport. With many chemicals now being sourced out of Asia, shipping processes are garnering more attention than ever.

A supplier must be able to pack products to meet customer requests and for whatever form of freight transport is being used, be that road, sea or air. If a sensitive flavor ingredient starts to decompose above 40°C, packaging that protects it from temperature extremes while sitting on a hot runway or in a container on an ocean freighter is critical. Similarly, if dropping below freezing point will harm a product, it must also be protected.

Sigma-Aldrich Offers Support

A good supplier will know all the properties of their ingredients, and be able to pinpoint requirements quickly for new products, particularly those that are hard to handle.

As an experienced and trusted global supplier, Sigma-Aldrich is well versed in ensuring hard-to-handle F&F ingredients reach their destination in prime condition. With access to 117 food grade packaging configurations, and endless solutions to meet customer specific needs, the product management and package engineering staff have an exceptional understanding of how to prepare products for safe and on-time delivery. A consultative approach to each situation offers further peace of mind to customers.

Sigma-Aldrich leverages over 50+ years of experience supplying over 200,000+ products, with industry-leading supply chain security. In-house packaging facilities allow for clear risk mitigation strategies to be implemented throughout the supply chain.

To learn more about working with Sigma-Aldrich’s F&F team, or to schedule a consultation, please visit: sigma-aldrich.com/flavors-fragrances.

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