As food manufacturers’ turn to packaging formats that increase product shelf life, reduce storage space and are cost effective, the vacuum pack is in greater demand across various industries, including the food and beverage sector.
Vacuum packing allows products to be kept fresher for longer and opens up packaging design opportunities including high-quality printed graphics and innovative pack shapes.
According to machine suppliers Perfect Packaging, vacuum packing is ideal for retail packaging and is also a useful way to provide food service items.
“More cost effective than large cans, the pouches can be supplied with resealable zippers for convenience, are easier and safer to handle than cans and flexible packs reduce the enormous storage and disposal space that is required for cans,” Perfect Packaging business development manager Gary Anderson said.
Finding the right machine
When it comes to choosing between the multitude of vacuum packing machines available to food manufacturers, machinery supplier Perfect Packaging suggests three things: plan for tomorrow, not for today; keep flexibility as the key factor in any machine purchase; and avoid expensive agreements that force you to purchase the vacuum bags from the machine supplier.
As the food industry becomes a place of increasing competition and consolidation, packaging design, portion sizes and product composition are factors that must be considered when procuring new equipment.
Ranging from simple, manually operated hood machines to sophisticated, high-speed machines, vacuum packing machines are suited to small or large scale operations and now have the technological capabilities to meet a host of applications — be that packing peanuts, prepared meals or olives in brine.
High-speed automatic machinery
Perfect Packaging’s range of continuous motion rotary vacuum carousels from LeePack in Korea is suitable for numerous pack sizes and shapes, as well as a range of processed food products including vegetables in oil, meat, pasta and prepared meals.
The carousels work in a rotary motion, picking up pre-made pouches that are stored in a magazine or in-feed conveyor, transferring them by grippers to the filling stations and then moving them into one of the rotary vacuum chambers where a vacuum is created and the pouch sealed.
“As the LeePack carousels work with pre-made packs, manufacturers can be flexible in their pack design,” Anderson said.
“We have a lot of clients in the can filling industry that are limited to putting all their products into the same round can.
“With a flexible pouch machine, stand-up pouches, flat four-sided pouches, traditional vacuum bags and shaped pouches can all be handled on the same machine, allowing for flexibility and fast change-over times,” he continued.
Using pre-made packs, as opposed to forming the pouch in line, reduces the time required for changing from one pouch size to another or from one pouch design to another.
“All you do is take the old stock off the in-feed magazine, introduce a new design or different sized pouch and it’s ready to go again,” Anderson said.
The LeePack carousels offer a variety of different filling methods, enabling food items traditionally stored in cans, such as fruit pieces in syrup or soups, to be vacuum packed in a flexible pouch.
With the rapid growth in prepared meals, the requirement for double shot dosing, adding two different items at the point of packaging, has increased.
The LeePack machines have up to three filling stations, allowing for combinations of solids, liquids and powders to be filled into each individual pack.
“We recently installed a machine at a company that produces semi-dried vegetables in oil,” Anderson said.
“There seems to be more and more interest in the prepared meal sector and technological advances in vacuum packing machinery, like the high speed range, is at once meeting this need and driving the trend.”
Vertical pouch packaging
Cryovac, a specialist in perishable food packaging technologies, uses a process called vertical pouch packaging (VPP) to pack products such as fruits and vegetables in brine into hygienic and highly resistant flexible pouches, extending product shelf life.
According to Cryovac, the extreme external pressure created in a vacuum packing machine can cause bubbles to form in the pack and can cause the liquid to be sucked out or evaporated.
As such, VPP does not create a vacuum but an airless pack.
The process involves vertically loading hot or cold products such as a metre-long tube of fruit and syrup into Cryovac’s VPP Onpack 2070 packaging system.
This is instead of loading horizontally, as is necessary with a rotary chamber vacuum machine.
Rollers then squeeze the excess product out of the seal area and seal the pack immediately to create a hermetic seal.
Manually operated machinery
Depending on the size and production specifications of a company, manually operated vacuum packing machinery may be a better option than high-speed automatic machinery.
Vacutec, an Australian supplier of complete vacuum packing systems, offers a range of Euro-Pak equipment, including small bench-top units for delis and large double chambered machines for high quantity outlet applications.
Fitted with Busch vacuum pumps and equipped with specifically designed computer programs that offer nine different settings for nine different products, the Euro-Pak range is ideal for small- to medium-sized food companies and is suitable for different pouch sizes.
The nine-setting program function allows for simple and precise operation by multiple users and ensures that different products are vacuum packed appropriately.
“Tailoring the settings ensures the vacuum pack performs at an optimum level, achieving maximum shelf life and preventing surface spoilage during transport or storage,” Vacutec managing director Peter Steinmann said.
The ability to individually program packing requirements for various items means a number of people can use the same machine with ease, saving time and making production more efficient.
Vacutec highlights the importance of considering the quality of the vacuum pump when determining the best vacuum packing machine for a particular operation.
Described by the company as the heart of the machine, they recommend a high-quality pump, such as those used in the Euro-Pak range, be chosen over cheaper alternatives.
A reliable pump will last the lifetime of the machine and reduce maintenance costs.
“Despite being highly sophisticated, Busch pumps operate on a simple principle,” Steinmann said.
“As there are less moving parts inside these pumps compared with others, there is less chance of them breaking down.
“If the pump dies, you might as well throw away the entire machine, particularly if it is a bench-top model,” he said.
With cheaper pumps it is not uncommon for them to break down within the first two years of use.
However, the Busch pumps are said to last the lifetime of the machine, approximately 10 to 15 years for a small bench-top model and longer for the double chambered machines.
With food prices increasing in Australia and as the food sector continues to consolidate, vacuum packing can reduce costs along the supply chain and provide products with a point of difference.
As a result, competition in vacuum packing machinery has significantly increased during the last five years in line with demand.