What are ready to cook foods? List out the requirements of packaging ready-to-cook foods.
Is cooking the biggest challenge for today’s generation? Of course, it’s true. The food product development industries formulate a new product in food industries know as RTC (ready-to-cook) foods to overcome this situation,
The RTC foods have become an alternation for home-cooked foods. However, there are many challenges faced during the production and packaging of these foods.
Food research lab helps you to know the various requirements in food packaging of RTC foods.
Convenience is a crucial driver in the growing market for fresh ready-to-cook meals with high nutrient content for new Product development in food. Customers lack their time during their busy weeks in cooking. This food contains raw ingredients with precut, seasoned and mixed, that are ready-made, high-quality meals. These can go directly from the cold fridge into the oven (or to the grill) which is perfect for hungry-time consumers. Ready-to-cook meals serve customers meals with the taste of homemade foods.
The requirements for packaging ready-to-cook foods
- Depending on their primary moisture content,
Low moisture-content food
Moisturize 1 to 5% with Equilibrium Relative Humidity (ERH) 18-20%.
As they have low moisture and ERH, the tendency to absorb moisture from the surroundings and turn soggy, losing their crisp and taste
One most important factor is the moisture vapour transmission rate (MVTR) for the packaging materials going to use for food production. MVTR values should be less than 1 gm /m2 / 24 hours
Medium-moisture content food
The Moisture content should be 6 to 20%
ERH up to 65%
Barrier property (MVTR) requirement for this food is less rigid. For longer Shelf life, microbiological spoilage is more critical. Usage of preservatives should be frequent.
High-moisture content food
Moisture content is 20 to 60%
ERH is about 85%
Bakery products- cake, bread
Freshly baked products like bread and cake, The ERH is higher than the ambient ERH frequently. The products release moisture content.
Plastic materials such as low-density polyethene (LDPE) that are permeable to water vapour helps in packaging these products for the short shelf life of food usually. Microbial spoilage is the best consideration for longer shelf life using technological food development. These products undergo sterilization and packaging in sealed containers such as cans, retort and aseptic packs with the help of, food recipe development.
The Medium and high moisture food is susceptible to the microbial decomposition and demands adequate processing methods, before their packaging and preservation.
Oxygen /Air Permeability
Ready-To-Cook food consists of typically fat and other ingredients that can be oxidized. Suppose oxygen/ air is allowed to come in contact with the packaged food. In that case, oxidative degradation of fat occurs, and many other oxidative changes take place. It causes rancidity, flavourlessness and the discolouration in the food. Packaging material for high fat should contain low oxygen permeability with recipe development consultants.
The food packaging is usually taking place in an inert atmosphere of Nitrogen (N2) to protect the food from oxygen/moisture. The N2 permeability of the package must be low to prevent its escape into the atmosphere for food industrial development.
Grease Resistance Properties
A variety of RTC food has edible oil and fat as their ingredients. Grease/oil during storage must not produce adverse effects during the packaging material used for these products, as fat may ooze out. HDPE and LDPE are affected by grease and are not suitable for packing fatty products. Polyester films, cellophane, polypropylene, ionomer films etc. are ideal for such beneficial purposes. Flavour and essential oils provide the organoleptic qualities of much RTC food as they are volatile substances. Hence gas permeability of the packaging material must be very low to prevent flavour loss in food. It is also necessary to stop the entry of the outer oxygen and air, that may cause oxidative changes in the flavour.
The sensitivity of light:
Light accelerates and creates an oxidative change linked with the flavours in food. Use of Opaque packaging materials such as cans and aluminium foil offers the best protection from sunlight. Metallised polyester and pigmented plastics give complete satisfaction. The light may lead to discolouration in food. Few films are opaque to visible light but allow U.V. light to penetrate in food product development.
- Depending on their significant ingredients, the blends fall under four groups
- Cereal-based ingredients
- Legumes based ingredients
- Fat rich ingredients
- Spice enriched ingredients
The first category, cereal-based ingredients consisting of mixes for idli, dosa that is mainly sensitive to moisture pick up and need protection against this. They generally have moisture content around 8-10% and become soft. Polyolefin plastic pouches of 37 to 75m thickness, which provides 3-4 months shelf life prefer for packaging purposes.
Legumes based ingredients
The Legume or pulses based mixes comprise vada, khara sev, bonda, etc. have packaging requirements identical to those of cereal-based blends, but posses lower permissible moisture pickup. It requires packaging material consists of good water vapour impermeability. LDPE and P.P. pouches will offer 1½ to 3 months of storage life under high temperature/R.H. conditions, that would correspond to 5 to 6 months in average temperatures.
Fat rich ingredients
The instant mixes of Jamun, cake, etc. that have high-fat source and milk solids, suscepts to rancidity and make interactions with oxygen and water vapour. The CPP pouches of 200 grams weight give a shorter shelf life around 2-3 months, adequate for local marketing. However, for longer shelf life and export purposes, HD-LDPE films will better suits for protection and attraction purposes.
Spice enriched ingredients
Spice enriched mixes such as rasam, sambar, soup, bisibelebath are suspects to aroma loss, oxidative deterioration changes. The functional ones based on cellophane/P.E., plain or metallized PET/PE, and co-extruded films with polyamide core layer provide longer shelf life will be more. The innermost layer of HD-LDPE coextruded film; ethylene-acrylic acid copolymer provides the required properties and good heat sealability.
Food research lab lists and guide the food production companies to do the best packaging of RTC foods with the help of this blog. The packaging is an essential part before marketing the food, and it is challenging to all the food development industries.
- Coles, R., McDowell, D., & Kirwan, M. J. (Eds.). (, 2003). Food packaging technology (Vol. 5). CRC press.
- Dainelli, D., Gontard, N., Spyropoulos, D., Zondervan-van den Beuken, E., & Tobback, P. (2008). Active and intelligent food packaging: legal aspects and safety concerns. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 19, S103-S112.