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Demand for Improved Packaging for Pet Food

When it comes to the food packaging industry, spoilage and contamination are not representative of consumer expectations of effective packaging. Whether it is a recall by the manufacturer, or just a nasty surprise in the pantry, spoiled food products are costly. As packaging technology advances, consumer expectations grow. The demand for better packaging that keeps food products fresher longer is not limited to foods for human consumption; it extends to pet food products as well.

As pet ownership has recently risen, so has the amount of affection shown to said pets. In a trend some refer to as "humanization", animal lovers are demanding that the products they purchase for their pets meet the same expectations they have for the products they purchase for themselves. This means that they expect for pet food products to be equally attractive, informative, and protective as any other food product. The FDA regulations for pet food products have improved over the years and are now similar to those for human foods. Manufacturers are giving consumers exactly what they want: intelligent packaging for pet food.

Just as with any other food product, the biggest hurdle pet food packaging faces is spoilage. Spoilage can occur from bacterial contamination at the manufacturer level, but more commonly and frequently is the case of spoilage due to the growth of mold. While mold is commonly perceived as a gross, fuzzy, green or black substance that manages to appear overnight and ruin one's day, it is actually a microorganism known as a fungus, flourishing into colonies as it reproduces by sporing, and consumes the organic matter that was once edible food. Mold mainly grows on the surfaces of food because it requires oxygen and moisture to grow. More than unpleasant to look at, mold can be and usually is dangerous to humans and pets, especially if consumed. Mold spores agitate the respiratory system and produce harmful chemical compounds known as mycotoxins, which can cause severe symptoms that range from irritation, lethargy, and vomiting to organ failure and death.

For humans it is usually easy to tell when food has spoiled by appearance or taste, but pet food poses a slightly more insidious threat. Mold growth on pet food is not readily apparent at first, and there will probably be extensive growth before recognizing that the food has gone bad. By the time a pet owner sees a clear indication of mold, their pet has actually been exposed to it and consuming it for at least a few days. To make matters worse, pet food can be exposed to airborne fungal spores, and there are usually spores already in it at the time of purchase.

While pet food is regulated for quality by the FDA, it is not treated the same as food deemed fit for human consumption. It is regulated as animal feed, which means that there is a certain amount of sub-standard ingredients allowed to be used. Manufacturers take precautions to reduce contamination by spores from sub-standard ingredients, such as grain affected by blight, by limiting the amount of sub-standard ingredients in the recipe. They also attempt to prevent mold growth in the finished product by adding preservatives. Proper preparation and packaging significantly reduces the amount of spores and improves the quality of the food to be more than fit for consumption and nutritionally sound. Yet, consumers desire less artificial ingredients and preservatives, and request more natural ingredients while still demanding longer shelf life for products for their pets. The only viable solution is in the packaging.

As packaging technology advances, consumers are placing more demands on the food packaging industry to develop intelligent packaging. Intelligent packaging, sometimes referred to as smart packaging, is designed to be effective during packaging, handling, and transport while remaining cost and material efficient as well as easy to open. It is informative to the user and attractive, while also actively protecting the product to ensure its quality. Examples of intelligent packaging systems include improved barrier materials, active packaging, and antimicrobial packaging. Whether, for the pet or for the pet owner, consumers expect packaging to be active and informative. Active food packaging systems are those that come into contact with the package contents and affect the food quality. For example, in dry food bags, there are layers multiple layers composed of different materials, all functioning as a barrier against moisture and bacteria.

Food packaging is designed to maintain the quality of the contents and inform the consumer about the contents enclosed inside. Customers have a right to know what the contents of the package are, which results in printed product information and attractive marketing designs. Trending designs of better packaging include the incorporation of additives into the packaging. Antimicrobial packaging contains films that have antimicrobial additives incorporated into a polymer film used for barrier protection. These films maintain good physical barrier properties, while also having the ability to maintain the quality of the food, as to further prevent the growth of microorganisms like mold. There is a growing interest in improved packaging designs and methods to be more ergonomic and effective. As consumer demands rise, manufacturers are going further to meet their concerns. Responsive packaging is becoming popular in the market today. Responsive packaging senses changes in the environment around a package that pose a potential threat to product quality, and responds through some mechanism of preventative control and alert to the user. Improved packaging for the food industry, whether for pets or people, is a developing science, and will warrant considerable investment and study as it has for the past decade.


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