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Preliminary review of liquid lock red meat trays as an alternate to soaker pads

Did you know improving the structure of meat packaging trays to reduce the need for soaker pads can reduce landfill?

Project start date: 01 June 2019
Project end date: 22 January 2020
Publication date: 12 March 2020
Livestock species: Sheep, Lamb, Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: National
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Summary

Many consumers desire an improved purchasing experience by having choices for products with less packaging waste. In Australia, more than 750 million used absorbent ("soaker") pads from meat packaging trays end up in landfill each year.

This project completed a review of red meat soaker pads and evaluated a liquid locking system that uses an array of small cells in the bottom of a plastic tray to capture and retain meat drippings in a commercial Coles facility.

The recyclable plastic used in this project has forming properties that limit the ability to easily shape the tray. Although this project was unable to produce a robust and economical alternative to soaker pads, it has provided new knowledge for forming trays with the desired properties and gained consumer insights about sustainable packaging of fresh meat.

Objectives

Eliminating the need for soaker pads could save $400,000/year and decrease the environmental impact of the red meat industry and support consumers who do not like to touch soaker pads in meat products. Therefore, the overall aim of this project was to review a (soaker) pad-free tray designs and evaluate a liquid locking system to control dripping in red meat trays.

Key findings

  • This project created an alternative meat tray design that does not require soaker pad packaging. However, the main challenge faced was the limitations of easily changing the shape of the recyclable plastic used in the trays to deliver the desired functionality.
  • Researchers increased the temperature and heating time of the plastic to try to improve the desired formation of the trays. This produced better depth and definition of imprint, but results were uneven and overheating produced defects, such as warping, blistering and inconsistent definition.
  • The trays that were produced with good definition had the desired liquid-retention technical properties and preliminary consumer feedback showed an improved customer experience due to reduced packaging use.
  • The shape and consistency required for a liquid lock component of the meat tray was beyond the capability of the plastic used. However, changing the method of moulding the plastic to make the recyclable trays could produce better results.
  • Although this project was unable to produce a robust and economical alternative to soaker pads, Coles has committed to finding a solution and working with suppliers to advance this research.

Benefits to industry

Developing a new meat tray design would enable the removal of the traditional soaker pad from red meat trays, which would produce manufacturing productivity gains by reducing packaging material and saving labour.

This development would deliver environmental benefits by reducing waste to landfill and creating a fully recyclable tray that will improve consumer experiences with purchasing fresh meat in recyclable packaging.

MLA action

The next phase of this research will involve MLA working with Coles and their suppliers to further advance the quality of the packaging. MLA is also working with Monash university to develop environmental and consumer-friendly alternatives to the soaker pad.

Lessons learnt from retail and customer insights on fresh meat merchandising and meat handling during cooking will continue to be a key input into future MLA meat packaging research.

Future research

The project next steps should involve:

  • trialling the same inserts using a different film with better heat forming properties or higher temperature tolerance
  • production trials to assess the impact on meat quality from the new design to define the optimum liquid loss per tray using various meat cuts and storage times
  • a complete cost benefit analysis of the new design of pad-free meat trays and market uptake estimates.

More information

Project manager: Dean Gutzke
Contact email: dgutzke@mla.com.au
Primary researcher: Retail Ready Operations Australia