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Different gas mixtures in Modified Atmosphere Packaging

When you deal with food products it can be a bit tricky to find the best way to preserve the products to make them last longer. We do not want to eat the same kind of food every day. That would be rather unappealing, and we would miss the benefits of a varied diet. In the same way that the food products have different taste and flavor the products have different needs when it comes to preserving. Without being too categoric we might be able to make out some rules or guidelines that can help you in your daily work.

An efficient way of preserving food products is MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging). When you modify a small amount of gas in the headspace of the package you optimize the conditions for the food product. At the same time, you prolong the shelf life with up to several weeks in some cases. When saying gas, of course meaning a gas mix. And this is where the tricky part comes in. All food products have different needs when it comes to preserving. Some need a gas mixture with a high content of oxygen. Others need a gas mixture with a high content of nitrogen. While a third group needs a gas mixture primarily consisting of CO2. Furthermore, to make it all more complicated some food products need a little bit of all three – CO2, N2, and O2.

Fish and cheese
© MOCON Europe A/S

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
It would be a good idea to categorize the food products according to the gas mixture they need. Here are some rules and guidance. Very few products will settle with only one type of gas. But if we look at gas mixtures with one type of gas that dominates, we can pick out some products. For instance, carbonated soft drinks, hard cheeses, bakery products (when we are talking bulk – not retail) and raw poultry and game (also bulk). All products that need a gas mixture predominantly consisting of carbon dioxide (CO2) if you want them to stay fresh for a longer time.

Nitrogen (N2)
Another group of food product is the nitrogen dependent products. Nitrogen dependent means the products that need a predominance of nitrogen in the gas mix flushed into the package when using MAP. In this group of products, you find dried food products, grated and soft cheeses, liquid food and beverages and finally fresh whole and prepared fruit and vegetables. So, if you’re dealing with these products it’s all relatively easy. You simply have to focus on nitrogen in the gas mixture for your MAP.

Salad and ready meal
© MOCON Europe A/S

Oxygen (O2)
A third group of food product is the ones that need a lot of oxygen (O2) to prolong their shelf life. This group includes raw offal. What is offal you might ask? Offal is the parts of the animal that a slaughter house would normally consider as waste. But today we use at lot of these products in modern cuisine. That is the case with for example feet, tongue, tripe, kidney, heart, liver and foie gras. However, mentioning foie gras hardly no one would dare to call it waste. Now we’re talking luxury product and, of course, we want it to stay fresh forever if possible. Poultry in cuts and dark portions also need a gas mix consisting predominantly of oxygen. But hey, you said earlier that poultry needed carbon dioxide? Well, we know but that is only the case for raw poultry in bulk. Confusing? Yes, maybe a little.

You might also be dealing with other types of food products than the above mentioned. Then how will you decide which type of gases to use? Do not panic. The help is near. We have elaborated a comprehensive guide to help you understand the different gas mixtures in Modified Atmosphere Packaging. In the guide you can find an extensive list of products and the exact mix of gas that matches the needs for each type of food. Check it out yourself!
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