Packaging Materials for
This Technical Brief describes the technical properties
of different food packaging materials. For more detailed
information on packaging using glass containers see
Technical Brief: Packaging foods in glass, and for
methods of filling and sealing containers, see Technical
Brief: Filling and Sealing Packaged Foods.
The technical purposes of packaging are:
To contain foods (to hold the contents and keep
them clean and secure without leakage or breakage
until they are used).
To protect foods against a range of hazards during
distribution and storage (to provide a barrier to dirt,
Fig 1: Polypropylene drums used
as shipping containers for fruit
pulp (Photo: Peter Fellows)
micro-organisms and other contaminants, and
protection against damage caused by insects, birds and rodents, heat, oxidation, and
moisture pickup or loss).
To give convenient handling throughout the production, storage and distribution system,
including easy opening, dispensing and re-sealing, and being suitable for easy disposal,
recycling or re-use.
To enable the consumer to identify the food, and give instructions so that the food is stored
and used correctly.
The shelf life of a food is the length of time it can be stored before the quality becomes
unacceptable, and this includes the time to distribute food to retailers and store it by the
consumer. It is important to note that the selection of a packaging material for a particular food
depends not only on its technical suitability (i.e. how well the package protects a food for the
required shelf life), but also on the availability and cost in a particular area, and any marketing
considerations that favour choosing a certain type of package.
Packaging is important because it aids food distribution, and rapid and reliable distribution helps
remove local food surpluses, allows consumers more choice in the foods available and helps to
reduce malnutrition. Packaging also reduces post harvest losses, which together with giving
access to larger markets, allows producers to increase their incomes. Therefore, adequate
packaging in developing countries has profound effects on both the pattern of food consumption
and the amount of food consumed.
Packaging materials can be grouped into two main types:
1. Shipping containers, which contain and protect the contents during transport and distribution
but have no marketing function. Examples include sacks, corrugated fibreboard (cardboard)
cartons, shrink-wrapped or stretch-wrapped containers, crates, barrels or drums.
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