Two key issues that enjoin pet food packaging innovations and food quality and safety are sustainability and pet food fraud, according to Claire Sand, PhD, owner of Packaging Technology & Research, LLC, Stillwater, Minn., and an adjunct professor of packaging at Michigan State University. Her family has a Ragdoll cat named Julius and about 60,000 bees. (“Beekeepers consider bees pets,” Dr. Sand notes.)
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“While many companies that make pet products are embarking on source reduction of polypropylene or multilayer in flexible (pouches) and rigid forms, the focus on material science innovation to deliver 100 per cent readily recyclable packaging and incorporate 100 percent recycled content is strong,” Dr. Sand says.
She cites the example of the package of Purina ProPlan cat litter sold by Nestlé Purina Petcare Co., Jefferson, Wis., which, while not for an edible, is notable because it is made entirely from molded recycled fiber.
“Recent polymer advances that increase the oxygen, moisture, aroma, and flavor barrier properties of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and the increased optimization of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) will result in more recyclable pet food packaging,” Dr. Sand predicts.
Concern of recycled plastic content in direct food contact is considered by the FDA on a case-by-case basis, she says. “The FDA document, Guidance for Industry—Use of Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging: Chemistry Considerations, assists in assessing applicability of pet food packaging to containing recycled content,” Dr. Sand relates. “Recycled plastic content is of concern due to contamination, and adjuvants in recycled plastics that may not comply with regulations.”
Minimizing Fraud: Packaging Tools
Inasmuch as the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, and the Global Food Safety Initiative Guidance Document (6th edition) promote vulnerability assessments as a first step in preventing fraud, global regulations to thwart food fraud have fueled innovation that detects contamination and fraud in packaged food, Dr. Sand points out.
“Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) dominates the fraud arena,” she says. “So, not surprisingly, overt (visible) and covert (hidden) features are being incorporated in pet food packaging with increasing frequency.”
“Overt features, such as barcodes, holograms, and watermarks, are designed to enable supply chain users to confirm the genuineness of a package and the product inside,” Dr. Sand says. “Such features are typically significantly visible and complex or expensive to reproduce.”
She credits the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI), St. Paul, Minn., for rapidly advancing predictive capabilities for food fraud. The FPDI addresses threats to the nation’s food system and has been a Homeland Security Center of Excellence at the University of Minnesota since 2004.
One of the organization’s tools for addressing fraud is the Focused Integration of Data for Early Signals project, which employs data fusion to predict the probability of food fraud by tracking import refusals, natural disasters, terrorism, social media, prior incidents of EMA, and other factors.
Incidence of EMA is also tracked by the FPDI and the US Pharmacopeia Convention.
“Because both packaging fraud and food fraud are often economically driven, prediction techniques are similar,” Dr. Sand relates. “By predicting fraud, it is hoped that the use of melamine to increase protein readings on pet food that occurred in 2007 and, for example, packaging that can leach contamination, can be avoided. When EMA driven fraud can be predicted, it can be more easily prevented.”
Overt methods discourage fraud and increase confidence throughout the value chain, Dr. Sand emphasizes.
“Tracking and tracing have been the main focus of overt packaging to prevent food fraud,” she points out. “To that end, numerous companies offer tracking and tracing via radio frequency identification and near field communication technologies.”
Some covert techniques allow consumers to know the time that has elapsed since the package was opened through the use of seal indicators, Dr. Sand relates. “Since high oxygen levels within a modified atmosphere package often indicate a leak, users can be assured of package integrity via oxygen sensors with these types of packaging,” she says. “A fiber tear on paperboard has also been used extensively to indicate that the seal is broken.”
Labeling and printing advances beyond traditional ink, dyes, watermarks, and micro-taggants continue to emerge, Dr. Sand continues. “Silicon dioxide micro-tags resistant to high temperatures and the environment are also gaining in popularity,” she notes.
Plant-based DNA markers for barcodes, watermarks, and microdots offer a cohesive approach to covert packaging in that use of DNA markers that form an encrypted DNA sequence are lasting and difficult to mimic,” Dr. Sand says.
Digital signatures within molded caps and bottles that provide true tracking and tracing of packages are already on the market, Dr. Sand mentions. “For production, there is also technology for tracking packaging imperfections without disrupting rapid line speeds,” she adds. “This allows authenticity of the packaged product to be easily assessed with a five-megapixel smartphone camera.”
“Covert and overt packaging and predictive capability enable brand owners and consumers to have greater confidence that ingredient accuracy is in place,” Dr. Sand says. “These technologies are emerging in pet food packaging due to the high value of pet food and the increased interest in pet nutrition.”