Nitrogen Gas Used in Packaging Machinery

Written by john brennan
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Nitrogen Gas Used in Packaging Machinery
Nitrogen is the most abundant gas in Earth's atmosphere. (symbole air image by choucashoot from Fotolia.com)

In its most common form, nitrogen is an inert gas that is largely nonreactive. This property makes it attractive for use in packaging items that can spoil. Nitrogen packaging is sometimes described as a form of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP).

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Function

Oxygen is plentiful in Earth's atmosphere and essential for most forms of life. Microorganisms that colonise and spoil food, however, also depend on oxygen for survival, and since oxygen is highly reactive it can also play a direct role in food spoilage. Apple browning, for example, is caused by atmospheric oxygen reacting with molecules in the apple. Nitrogen, on the other hand, will not sustain microorganisms that need oxygen, and since it's inert under normal conditions it won't react with the food.

Features

Manufacturers typically flush the air from the package with near-pure nitrogen then seal it to preserve freshness. Alternatives include vacuum packaging, where the air is sucked out of the package then replaced with nitrogen, or liquid nitrogen dosing where the container is flushed with liquid nitrogen which quickly vaporises. Liquid nitrogen is less common since it's more expensive and may also entail some additional workplace hazards as a result of its extremely low temperature.

Significance

Nitrogen packaging is common for foods like crisps, snack foods, fruits and vegetables, and many meat and seafood items. It's especially important for fruits since these will spoil rapidly if not protected from degradation.

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