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Feasibility of using linerless cartons for the storage and transport of meat and meat products

Did you know red meat can be safely transported in cardboard cartons that are coated in plastic instead of being lined with a plastic bag?

Project start date: 09 May 2016
Project end date: 03 September 2018
Publication date: 24 December 2019
Livestock species: Sheep, Goat, Lamb, Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: National
Download Report (1.4 MB)

Summary

Red meat cuts are usually transported in cardboard cartons that have internal plastic bags (liners), which minimise microbial and physical contamination and ensure liquid from the meat does not damage the cardboard. However, sometimes these liners are damaged during freezing and the product can become contaminated.

This project assessed the possibility of using liner-less cartons for red meat products, which meant coating the cardboard with plastic instead of using a plastic liner. The liner-less cartons were evaluated in regards to the chemical, physical and microbiological risks associated with storage and transport.

Compared to lined cartons, the liner-less cartons neither expose the meat products to any extra chemicals nor increase the level of biological contamination. Therefore, liner-less cartons appear to be a viable option to store and transport red meat from a meat safety point of view.

Objectives

The aim of this project was to assess how liner-less cartons affected:

  • the risk of chemical contamination to the meat products
  • physical and microbiological risks
  • the integrity of liner-less cartons in trade.

This information was used to develop guidelines for the use of liner-less cartons to handle and store red meat products in Australia.

Key findings

  • The plastic coating on the cartons complied with the expectations for plastics that are in contact with food and did not introduce more contamination to the meat products.
  • There was no significant difference between the amounts of microbial cells on liner-less cartons compared to lined-cartons.
  • The structural integrity of liner-less cartons during transport and storage was similar to lined-cartons.
  • Best practice guidelines and standard operating procedures for the use of liner-less cartons to store and transport red meat products were refined.

Benefits to industry

Plastic liners can stick to meat product during storage and transport (poly-entrapment), so the liner-less cartons offer more protection to meat products. Liner-less cartons do not present any greater risk to consumer health than conventionally lined cartons.

MLA action

The information in this report, along with practical trials, has led to the approval of liner-less cartons to export frozen meat from Australia to international markets.

Future research

The integration of liner-less cartons into Australian red meat processing facilities will require further work into:

  • quantifying the impact of damaged cartons
  • comparing the incidence of freezer burn with current packaging types
  • investigating the acceptance of the use of liner-less cartons by the Department of Agriculture and the wider community.

More information

Contact email: reports@mla.com.au
Primary researcher: Teys Australia Pty Ltd