A canola-based plastic resin is the latest wrinkle in a larger effort to get protein processors to add value to commodity cuts with cook-in bags.

Raw chicken isn’t visually appealing, even when it’s fully seasoned, but when placed in a cook-in bag, it is safer and more convenient for the cook and more profitable for the processor. Source: M&Q Packaging.

Cook-in bags for turkeys have been around since the 1970s, and hermetically sealed vacuum bags for protein products have a decade’s worth of applications under their belts. But change comes slowly in food processing, and adoption of these bags to add value to commodity cuts is just beginning to heat up.

Following a few false starts, Sealed Air’s Cryovac division rolled out Oven Ease bags in recent years, targeting foodservice operations with a package that retains meats’ juices and prevents cross-contamination of precooked items for school lunches (see “Packaging materials innovations,” Food Engineering, January 2010). Cryovac was following the lead of Schuylkill Haven, PA-based M&Q Packaging Corp., a film converter that has aggressively promoted the cook-in bag as a way for further processors and packers to generate more profitable sales. M&Q’s latest innovation is an outer-ply resin fabricated from canola oil that has been modified to perform like a polyester. The MQ120 Oven Bag qualifies for a No. 1 resin recycling code, a distinction M&Q hopes will increase the bags’ sustainability credentials.

Replacing the polyolefin and nylon in conventional oven bags may result in a greener footprint, but MQ120 is a minor improvement in a packaging idea with significant potential. For the at-home cook, ovenable bags can reduce preparation time to a third, while delivering a meal with the flavor Grandma derived from a pressure cooker. For a restaurateur, cook-in bags slash preparation time and safeguard meats from human contamination, while retaining juices for gravies and other stock-pot uses. For the food processor, a bag can turn raw meat or poultry into a seasoned, ready-to-cook product that commands a higher price while adding only a nominal cost.

“The traditionalists keep pushing back,” allows Curt Rubinstein, M&Q’s sales & marketing manager, “but the marketing groups get excited about this because they can sell a product that sounds like it’s fully cooked but doesn’t have any of the costs involved.” As an example, he cites pork ribs: Absent precooking or a cook-in bag, ribs are “just bones [hog processors] have to get rid of.” By giving people a way to prepare juicy ribs in about an hour, pork producers turn ribs into value-added meats.

Perdue has steadily expanded its Oven Ready line to five offerings, and Jennie-O and other processors are marketing meats and poultry in cook-in bags. Rubinstein points out his bags tolerate a higher level of cook temperatures for faster preparation time than bags using nylon, and a larger cooking dome results in better flavor. “The only real downside is that the sealing of the bag is a challenge,” he concedes. Whereas nylon bags might tolerate a sealing temperature variance of plus or minus 20 degrees, his bags have a narrower window. But if plant engineers are up to the challenge of tighter sealing tolerances, processors and their customers stand to benefit.

For more information:
Curt Rubinstein, M&Q Packaging Corp., 864-261-8800, rubinstein@mqplastics.com