On 23 November 2017, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), Switzerland held its annual symposium. This year’s event was entitled “Verpackung der Zukunft” [“Packaging of the future”]. Academic researchers, packaging manufacturers and their suppliers, as well as the food industry gathered for this one-day public event in Wädenswil, Switzerland.

Kicking off the day, Robert Witik from the Sustainability and Novel Packaging Group at the Nestlé Research Center, Switzerland explained how eco-design is being used in packaging decision making at the food producer. Consumers are demanding for “naturalness and sustainability in a connected world”, according to Witik. At Nestlé, this is translated into packaging that is optimized for its weight-to-volume ratio, thereby using renewable materials and striving for recycling. Using the ecodEX tool, packaging designers at Nestlé can balance trade-offs between material production, transport, disposal and other eco-impacts when making novel packaging choices.

Other speakers also addressed packaging sustainability. Rainer Zah of consultancy Quantis, Switzerland reviewed a Packaging Ecodesign Tool (PETER), developed specifically for food producer Danone. Harald Pilz of consultancy denkstatt, Austria introduced a new Austrian research project on the impact of improved food packaging on household-level food waste generation. And Gerald Rebitzer of packaging producer Amcor, Switzerland showed how the packaging industry is attempting sustainability, by focusing on recyclability of light-weight plastic packaging such as multilayer polypropylene pouches. Thereby, recycled food contact plastics are used as feedstock for other, non-food plastic products.

Chemical migration was the topic of a talk by Thomas Gude of consultancy SQTS, Switzerland. Gude mentioned the challenges relating to testing of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) and that the approach using non-targeted analysis for their identification has not been successful so far. In his mind, the use of bioassays for a full screening of NIAS is more promising. In the future, Gude envisions full NIAS screening in foods, though he provided no detail on how this was going to be achieved. Further, in the context of non-harmonized food contact materials in the EU (FPF reported), he recommended the Swiss approach to regulating printing inks as possible solution for dealing with other types of food contact materials, for which no EU-wide regulations exist so far. The Swiss printing ink regulation contains two positive lists, list A with risk assessed substances and list B with substances that are being used by industry, but for which no risk assessments exist. For substances on list B, the generic migration limit of 10 ppb per substance applies. The benefit of this approach, according to Thomas Gude, is that it’s pragmatic and achievable in a reasonable time frame.

The issue of extending shelf-life was also addressed in many of the talks. Packaging has an important role to play in sustainability, as the environmental impact of food production is very significant and therefore environmental benefits could be expected from a reduction of food waste. Nuria Herranz from the packaging consultancy ITENE, Spain presented latest developments in active and intelligent packaging, including intelligent printing inks that provide information about the edibility of plastic-packaged poultry. Nadine Rüegg, ZHAW, Switzerland introduced a novel palladium-based oxygen scavenger for extending the shelf-life of pre-baked products, like pizza dough. She noted that no migration of the palladium into food had been observed. And Lars Fieseler, ZHAW, Switzerland, discussed an innovation for food preservation: viable, pathogen-specific bacteriophages are released from coated nanofibers into packaged foods prone to microbial spoilage, such as poultry. Thereby, the bacteriophages are highly specific viruses that attack pathogenic bacteria, like salmonella, and destroy them.

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ZHAW (November 23, 2017). “Lebensmitteltagung 2017 – Verpackung der Zukunft.»