Long-anticipated advances in food packaging are coming sooner rather than later as developers take advantage of the FDA's Pre-Market Notification (PMN) initiative for food-contact materials.

Tetra Pak's Glaskin technology has cracked the European beer market, but the PET coating still is in the FDA's regulatory approval queue.

A petition for BP Amoco's monomers, copolymers and blends for producing heat-tolerant polyethylene napthalate (PEN) languished for years until BP switched to PMN review last fall. PMN requires FDA to respond to petitions within 120 days; four monthsand one day later, the firm received its letter of nonobjection from FDA, clearing the way for commercial application.

Because PEN was one of the first polymers subject to environmental review, BP Amoco spent years demonstrating its recyclability properties, a spokesman for the Naperville, Ill., firm notes. Still, "the PMN process has a lot of potential benefit for food packaging," he says.

One drawback with PMN is that clients also must undergo the review. In this case, Shell will convert the PET-related raw material into polymers, making it a BP client. The new materials increase the heat resistance of PET by about 10 degrees, enhancing applicability in hot-fill and pasteurization processes.

Low-cost oxygen barriers for PET also are needed before the material can be used for beer and other oxygen-sensitive products. Technologies that deliver that also are switching to the FDA's fast track. Atlanta-based Sidel Inc. converted its application for ACTIS (amorphous carbon treatment on internal surface) to PMN in early April, and the firm is anticipating FDA clearance this summer. ACTIS coats the inner surface of containers with gas in a plasma state, providing a very inexpensive oxygen barrier. The first U.S. demonstration of the system is set this month at the NPE 2000 trade show.

Glaskin from Tetra Pak is another interior coating that prevents outside air from dissipating into beer. Tetra Pak declined to discuss the status of its FDA petition.

Food wrap promises to name that poison

With major food companies testing Toxin Guard and a petition for U.S. patent rights being approved, officials at Toxin Alert Inc. are hopeful their pathogen-detecting polyethylene film will reach consumers later this year.

"The technology is under review by international food processors and film makers," according to Gordon Furzer, operations vice president of the Mississauga, Ont., biotechnology firm. "We would like to see it in commercial use by the end of the year."

Toxin Guard relies on a composite material with a capture antibody and gelcoat overlay to detect and identify four specific biological materials in a single package: E. coli, salmonella, listeria and campylobacter. The biological detection system is placed on treated polyolefin film, with up to nine detectors per square inch. If the pathogen-specific cells detect a toxic substance, the assay material reacts with a distinctly colored icon, such as an X or Mr. Yuck.

Besides warning consumers, Furzer notes the system also can benefit retailers, processors and health officials by not only identifying contamination in the supply chain but also pinpointing the specific pathogen causing the problem. The firm says the system can detect one microbial cell in a 25-gram meat sample.

Toxin Guard has been greeted with a measure of skepticism in microbiology circles. "It sounds good when you say it fast, but I have some real concerns about it," offers Michael P. Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety and Quality Enhancement at the University of Georgia. While the idea has merit, he and other food scientists are concerned such a product would lack sufficient sensitivity to be effective.

One cell of E. coli 0157 in a gram of meat is sufficient to cause serious illness, and "real-time assays" simply cannot detect those pathogen levels, Doyle points out. Another problem with meat is that pathogens are not necessarily found on the surface, where Toxin Guard would be effective at detecting them.

A triangular design improves gripping of Mistic Zotics, but it's all about eye appeal in today's beverage business, as the glass bottle illustrates.

Mistic Brands introduces triangular bottle

When standard bottles are termed "retro,' it's clear image is everything in beverage packaging. That's especially true in the New Age drink segment, which helps explain the three-sided container developed for Mistic Zotics, a line of exotic fruit-flavored drinks from Triarc Beverage Group's Mistic Brands Inc.

The all-natural, vitamin-enhanced line is packaged in a three-sided, 20-ounce glass bottle. "As the only beverage bottle in its class to utilize a three-panel design, Zotics is going to stand out at retail," predicts Mary Ellen Reis, vice president of packaging at the White Plains, N.Y., manufacturer. The three sides also support three different labels and improve the grip of the bottle, which is rounded at the top and bottom.

More important than functionality, though, is an eye-catching design, and Mistic executives say the packaging is scoring high with consumers and convenience-store buyers.

The ability to pull together all the elements of a Pringles multipack promotion in a short time netted Ryco Packaging a gold award from the National Association of Container Distributors.

Pringles Christmas canister wows packaging judges

Designing, sourcing and filling a decorative metal can in 90 days for a holiday sell-in of Pringles multipacks warranted a gold award in the novelty division of the 37th Annual National Association of Container Distributors Packaging Awards.

NACD judges considered functionality, choice of materials and graphic appeal in honoring the work of Ryco Packaging on the Pringles project. Ryco and other NACD members are wholesale distributors of rigid packaging. They serve as one-stop shops for manufacturers' packaging projects.

The gold award in the food category went to Berlin Packaging for a multifaceted PET bottle with a measuring-cup overcap for Victorian House liquid concentrate coffee. The firm switched from a juice square in high-density polyethylene to improve barrier properties and increase shelf life.

It took six years to develop, but shelf-stable pasta and sauce in an innovative microwave tray are part of the appeal of Borden's new It's Pasta Anytime line.¿

'Smart' tray delivers shelf-stable pasta

Borden Foods Corp. is rolling out It's Pasta Anytime, an individually portioned pasta and sauce meal with a nine-month shelf life. Sold under the Classico brand name in grocers' dry pasta aisle, It's Pasta Anytime features a patented Smart Cooker tray with a convex bottom that is designed to prevent product burn during microwaving. The green polypropylene tray is microwave-only.

Extensive consumer testing resulted in the generous 15.25 oz. individual portions, according to Rod Simpson, associate R&D director. "The whole project was consumer-driven, right down to the paperboard container that shows the curvature of the tray." Four tomato sauce flavors, including two meat flavors, are offered. The suggested retail price is $2.99.

Even more challenging than the Smart Cooker tray was the cooking process developed for the pasta. Product is packaged immediately after being extruded, while it is still wet, into MAP pouches. Hermetically-sealed pouches also are used for the sauce.

The production process was developed for a foodservice product called R&F No-Cook Pasta, which is packaged in 5-lb. bags. While that product has been available commercially for several years, product developers had to overcome special challenges in packaging much smaller pasta portions for the retail marketplace.