Safely processing and packaging foods and beverages is essential to maximizing their quality and shelf life longevity. Various products and procedures have been developed to keep food and drink viable for extended periods. One solution employs nitrogen as the primary atmospheric gas for bottling and packaging.
Not only is nitrogen safe and effective for packaging purposes, but it’s also readily available in the atmosphere. As a result, numerous companies and organizations have chosen to use nitrogen generators to extract the gas themselves. A small nitrogen generator can produce enough gas for various food and beverage operations.
The Benefits of Nitrogen Generation for Food Preservation
As a food and beverage preservation method, nitrogen continues to be one of the safest and most effective options. Its non-reactive nature may play an essential role in its popularity. It’s also quite plentiful, which benefits overall cost and availability.
Preservation of food quality
Fresh foods have a limited amount of time on shelves or in bins before they break down and decompose. Most baked, prepared, or minimally processed foods have expiration dates or timeframes before they lose their freshness.
Much of the decomposition process is considerably slowed by removing oxygen, airborne particulates, or other gasses and replacing the packaging atmosphere with nitrogen. Since nitrogen is also an inert gas, it won’t negatively impact or react with the food or beverage it’s supposed to protect.
Prevention of spoilage and microbial growth
Food decomposition naturally occurs as the presence of oxygen and microscopic organisms begins the process of breaking down organic materials. When fresh foods are packaged with oxygen and microbes in their sealed atmosphere, the decomposition process can actually be sped up.
By replacing the oxygen in packaging with nitrogen, bacterial and microbial growth is significantly slowed or potentially halted. Food contamination and oxidation can be kept in check simply by removing the variables that can cause degradation.
Extended shelf life
Once a product is packaged with nitrogen and the decomposition process has been slowed, fresh fruits and vegetables can remain viable and safe for extended periods. Nitrogen can also be effective in reducing or removing excess moisture from packaging. Not only will fresh foods remain tasty, but they also tend to retain their fresh appearance.
Reduced need for preservatives
Many food manufacturers and packagers have used various preservative ingredients to keep foods from spoiling or becoming inedible. Unfortunately, many preservatives can contain excessive sodium, negatively affecting your diet. Some preservatives are potentially dangerous for continued consumption and are even banned in certain countries.
When choosing nitrogen for preserving food and drink, consumers and food and beverage companies can rest assured that there aren’t any harmful chemicals or additives in the process. Nitrogen is completely safe and naturally abundant in our atmosphere. Plus, as we’ve seen, nitrogen is excellent at slowing or preventing microbial growth, oxidation, and the spoiling of food products.
How Nitrogen Generation Works for Food Preservation
Although nitrogen generation may sound like a complicated process, it’s a relatively straightforward principle that can be achieved in several ways. At Complete Engineered Solutions, we work with our clients to design and build nitrogen extraction generators to meet their needs.
In essence, a machine works to separate the nitrogen gas molecules from the oxygen and other gasses and particulates in the atmosphere. Holding tanks can be used to store extracted nitrogen for later use, or it can be directly piped in as a pressurized gas from the generator.
Pure nitrogen can then be added to the packaging to remove all other impurities, creating a sterile environment. Nitrogen can also provide a cushion or barrier to prevent foods from being crushed in transit or display.
Applications of Nitrogen Generation in Food Preservation
Using nitrogen for food packaging has many applications and benefits, with new methods and uses regularly being explored.
Nitrogen’s inert and safe qualities make it an excellent choice for pre-packaged foods, such as chips, popcorn, or nuts. Not only does it keep these foods fresh, but it can also protect them from getting squished or reduced to crumbs.
Fresh produce and meats
There’s not much better than fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits. But sometimes, these fresh items must travel a bit before reaching your table. Even a trip home from the grocery store can expose certain items to contamination or spoilage if not adequately packaged. With nitrogen surrounding the fresh items, they’ll remain unspoiled and tasty until you’re ready to eat.
Bread, cookies, bagels, and other baked items can be delicious food choices for many consumers. Receiving freshly baked items from a bakery offers the additional appeal of taste and consistency. When these baked goods can’t be directly bought from a baker, nitrogen packaging can help retain that delicious, fresh aroma and flavour.
Beverages and wine
Beers and wines are organic-based products, as they’re made from grains and fruits. Like fresh produce, these beverages can degrade over time if their atmospheres are not adequately flushed and sealed. Oxidation and bacterial growth can spoil or taint wines and beers.
Using nitrogen instead of oxygen allows these beverages to retain their freshly brewed or casked flavors and avoid oxidation. The nitrogen will also extend the shelf life of these products, allowing them to be stored for longer periods without turning.
Advantages of Nitrogen Generation over Traditional Preservation Methods
Nitrogen generation is truly offering greater preservation methods for so many fresh and prepared foods and beverages, including:
- Increased efficiency and productivity- With an on-site nitrogen generation system, companies can package all of their products without the need for gas or gas cylinders. Packaging and production won’t worry about slowing or stopping to refill or replace tanks.
- Reduced use of preservatives and chemicals- Using nitrogen is safe and reduces the dependency on chemicals or harmful preservatives for keeping foods and beverages fresh.
- Improved food safety and quality- Using nitrogen means fewer chemicals and preservatives while still providing a safe and effective method for maintaining freshness and quality.
Two of the most significant advantages to nitrogen generation are its overall availability and food preservation abilities. With such a plentiful resource surrounding us daily, it is logical to incorporate a nitrogen generator into your food or beverage operations. At Complete Engineered Solutions, we are committed to offering our clients the best and most valuable tools available for nitrogen generation. We also offer complete sales and service for industrial air compression systems, vacuum systems, and chillers. Contact us today to see what we can provide you with.