National Cheese Lovers Day

The “CO2 Factor” in Modern Cheese Packaging

It’s a little known fact, but there is a lot happening behind the scenes in today’s modern cheese packaging facilities. For instance, with the large variety of shapes, sizes and types of cheese required by airlines, restaurants, and hotels, unique and novel types of processing methods are used. How unique and novel? Well, let’s just say that such elements as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N), and oxygen (O2) are all being used in ways you might not expect.

The concept is called Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and it involves modifying the atmosphere inside product packaging in order to increase the shelf life of the product, retaining freshness, and preventing microbes from growing.

MAP works on the basis that gases in contact with the product are replaced by controlled gaseous mixtures, which in turn flushes air from the packaging. Although it differs from product to product, the most commonly used gases include carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen, these gases help to combat bacteria and stop oxidation of the food. 

Many well-known cheese producers utilize MAP technology. It is important for the facilities to keep in mind specific portion size, types of packaging and storage needs. The team at Analox has been working with a number of cheese packaging companies to develop customized monitoring systems that help with the specialized artificial MAP environment used to process and package both hard and soft cheese products.

The MAP process uses carbon dioxide (CO2) to prolong the freshness of hard cheeses and the stability of soft cheeses. Hard cheese products are packaged in an environment of 100 percent CO2. This is done to lower moisture content in the cheese composition which can trigger oxidation leading the cheese to become moldy and undesirable. 

Soft cheeses in comparison, are packaged in an environment of just 20 to 40 percent CO2. Over time, CO2 can break down due to the water within the cheese. This reduces the gas volume in the package which can cause the product packaging to collapse. Nitrogen is added to help prevent the packaging from collapsing.

As with any artificial environment that incorporates the uses of gas elements, proper monitoring for safety and contamination are essential. When adding these gases to a production facility, it is essential to monitor for oxygen depletion that can result from an accidental release of nitrogen, it is also essential to measure for enriched CO2 in any area where CO2 is being used or stored. It is a common misconception that you can monitor enriched CO2 with an oxygen sensor.

In any cases where CO2 is present, it is best practise to use a CO2 monitoring device.

Some facilities utilize multiple machines and processes. Proper gas monitoring includes the possible installation of multiple monitors measuring different gas elements at different locations in the facility. Analox engineers are pros at developing customized monitoring solutions and effective safety measures no matter how large or small the installation may be.

Analox Technical Specialist David Booth has been involved with dozens of facilities that use the MAP process. A common theme among facility planners and engineers is a frequent lack of awareness about the placement of monitoring units and the number to be installed. 

“Facilities are changing all the time,” Booth said. “Different products mean altered production lines. This means the gases may change or the concentrations. Unfortunately, the monitoring units are not checked frequently enough and the changes are not accounted for. Often, Analox representatives are contacted to help evaluate the types of monitors and quantity of monitors needed at a facility.”

Booth said that both fixed location and portable safety devices from Analox can greatly reduce the risk potential in any MAP environment. “We have ample experience to help facility planners evaluate their gas monitoring and safety issues, whether the facility is producing cheese or another food product.”

As we celebrate National Cheese Lovers Day, rest assured that the Analox Group is working closely with cheese producers worldwide to make sure your desired cheese selection is not only tasty and fresh, but it has also been created and packaged in safe and secure facilities. 

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