Protecting shelf life ensures consumers receive fresh cannabis products and protects brand reputation
With increasingly stringent health and safety legislation, and producers looking to increase the shelf life of their products, it has never been more important to ensure that packaging is closed and sealed correctly, according to the 2022 PMMI State of the Industry, US Packaging Machinery Report,” published by PMMI Business Intelligence, a division of PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. Airtight, hermetic seals are essential to package integrity, freshness preservation, and regulatory compliance.
As the cannabis supply chain evolves and transitions to more sustainable materials, it’s important to select capping, induction sealing, wrapping, and form-fill-seal equipment that’s flexible enough to achieve good seals regardless of whether the substrate is downgauged, contains recycled content, or offers some other sustainability feature. For flexible packaging, good seals require optimization of heat, pressure, and dwell time and/or the ability to run cohesive material. Offline testing of samples pulled periodically from the line or 100% inline inspection provides assurances of seal quality. The most advanced machines monitor heat, pressure, and dwell time and adjust those parameters as needed.
Packaging lines also must be flexible enough to handle a growing array of SKUs and packaging formats. Rapid changeover is essential as are machine designs that are future-proofed to handle new packaging materials that arrive in the marketplace, according to “Key Challenges for Packaging and Processing Operations,” a white paper based on discussions at PMMI’s Top to Top Summit in 2021.
Sometimes, seal integrity alone is not sufficient to maintain or extend shelf life. Barrier materials may be needed to protect the product from oxidation, water loss or gain, and microbial growth. Oxygen and moisture barriers can be provided by material thickness, a barrier layer or coating, or metallizing. Flower products, especially, may need humidity packs to prevent drying. Whole bud products are packed in polyester bags, pop-top drams with integral child-resistant (CR) mechanism, or jars with threaded, CR closures. For pre-roll marijuana cigarettes, maximum oxygen barrier is provided by glass tubes or metal tins. Gummies need the moisture resistance and oxygen barrier provided by multilayer foil pouches. Induction-sealed drams or jars also might be specified. For hard candy/mints/tarts/chewable tablets, metal tins or induction-sealed drams provide maximum shelf life. (1)
All cannabis packaging must be CR. Tamper evidence may be required in some states and for certain products. For multi-dose products, resealable features can help maintain product freshness after the package is opened but must retain child resistance. This will limit how the package can be resealed. To avoid missteps, it’s essential to work closely with regulatory bodies to ensure compliance. (1)
Other shelf-life-enhancing tactics include flushing with nitrogen before sealing. This practice is common for food products and has been used for pharmaceutical products too. Depending on product requirements, other gases or gas mixtures may be specified to modify headspace atmosphere.
Active packaging is another shelf-life-extending option especially for highly sensitive products. In this situation, a desiccant, oxygen (or other gas) absorber, or humidity pack is added to the package or built into the container, cap, or substrate.
Extended shelf life offers benefits to all stakeholders. Processors gain sales, protect product quality and brand equity, and reduce waste. Retailers spend less time restocking and experience fewer out-of-stock situations. Consumers gain better access to top-quality products.
It is more important than ever that the packaging and processing industries come together to share insights and innovations, and the best place to do that is PACK EXPO International (Oct. 23-26, 2022; McCormick Place, Chicago) – the most comprehensive packaging and processing show in the world in 2022. From connecting with colleagues and hearing from experts to seeing new technologies, materials, and machinery-in-action, PACK EXPO International is the most efficient and effective way to discover packaging and processing solutions for over 40 vertical markets. No other event this year will showcase entire production line solutions and offer attendees everything needed to compete in a changing marketplace. For more information and to register, visit packexpointernational.com.
1 PMMI Media Group, “How to Get Started Designing Packaging for Cannabis,” Nov. 8, 2021.