The impact of MAP CO2 levels on product shelf life

Red meat with modified atmosphere packaging
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SEALPAC traysealers and thermoformers make good use of modified atmosphere packaging technology to keep food fresh and at optimal flavour. But how does this work to preserve food and what’s the optimum gas mix?


What is modified atmosphere packaging?

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) helps to preserve food without the need of added preservatives. It works by replacing the natural atmosphere inside food packaging with a combination of carbon dioxide, nitrogen or oxygen.

Higher gas levels are generally expected to deliver extended shelf lives. For instance, CO2 is used to inhibit the growth of microbes. But just how low can you go before the lack of CO2 starts negatively impacting shelf life?


What’s the optimum for CO2 in modified atmosphere packaging?

Recent research by Air Products looked into the correlation between CO2 levels in MAP and extended shelf life. They found that CO2 can be reduced as low as 20% while still being able to keep food fresher for longer.

This study used ready-to-eat meatballs which were infected with microbes, with each with a different gas mix. Each pack had a different CO2 concentration, including 10, 20, 30 and 40% balanced with nitrogen, and one control packaged with just air.

CO2 levels in packaging

The findings of this study revealed that:

  • The longest shelf life which can be achieved with a CO2 level of 30-40% is 28 days
  • CO2 concentration of 20% delivered a shelf life of up to 21 days, whilst anything below 20% was comparable to meatballs packed in air, with a maximum shelf life of 14 days
  • CO2 is effective against micro-organism growth provided it is at least 20%, and even longer shelf lives can be achieved with a higher concentration


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