Just weeks after the World Health Organisation issued a report linking processed meat to cancer, new figures show that UK sales of bacon and sausages have plummeted by £3 million.
Processed meat has been classified by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as carcinogenic to humans and has been ranked alongside the likes of asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes in group 1, the highest of five possible rankings.
Red meat has also been placed under the spotlight and received the ‘probably carcinogenic’ classification, putting in the same group as weed-killer component glyphosate and pollution caused by burning wood indoors.
The increasingly global nature of the food supply chain means red and processed meats undergo certain processes to ensure they stay fresher for longer and reach supermarket shelves and consumer homes looking and tasting as fresh as when first cut. As the supply chain strives to cut food waste, more and more preservatives are needed to enable the meat to last longer in transit, on the shelves and in our fridges at home.
It is during these preserving methods, such as the addition of nitrates and sulphites, along with smoking, curing, or salting, when cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) form, producing potentially harmful chemicals.
Whilst the latest sales figures suggest some have turned their back on the tasty bacon sandwich, there are many more people who do not want to give up eating that juicy steak or the toad in the hole.
What’s more, red and processed meat provides much needed protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins, for a balanced diet.
So what is the answer? How can consumers continue to keep eating the meat they love and which products really add value to our diet?
LINPAC can suggest one solution - active packaging.
LINPAC has a technically advanced range of packaging solutions which incorporate antimicrobial agents to slow down the growth of bacteria which leads to food spoilage and waste. Crucially, the active agents do not affect the food’s organoleptic properties, such as taste and smell.
Active packaging incorporates an antimicrobial agent, which can be applied as a coating or varnish to packs and films after manufacture, or can be included within the polymer mix during manufacture of labels and pads, which can be included within a pack.
Active packaging extends shelf life, eliminating much of the need for preservatives and additives, certainly in the quantities currently being used, and a range of innovative solutions are available today.
These active agents carry out a specific purpose whether it be soaking up excess moisture or controlling the amount of carbon dioxide around the product. However, the active agent does not come into direct contact with the food, protecting it from contamination or degradation
Active packaging is beginning to be acknowledged by retailers realising the benefit it can bring to their food products, especially meat. According to Smithers PIRA active packaging global sales for meat and poultry are forecast to increase by 5.2% year on year to reach $769,000 million in 2019.
To meet the needs of consumers with growing health concerns, active packaging can also contain natural flavourings to reduce sodium levels in meats, creating further benefits for health and nutrition.
However, both food and packaging manufacturers are challenged by the increased cost and time active packaging takes to develop, as well as the complex legislature associated with its implementation. In addition, consumers tend to believe a product is no longer ‘fresh’ when packed in this type of solution.
If, as an industry, we invested and used these technologies more, the process could become much easier and cheaper.
Active packaging could be one step further towards eliminating the potential health risks associated with red and processed meats.