Posted onOctober 11, 2013
There is a strong synergistic relationship between packaging and food technology. Our modern food supply chains would not be possible without the sophisticated packaging available today. The protection and preservation provided by the packs reduce food damage and wastage and help ensure that safe products are delivered to consumers. The packaging also has to meet the marketing demands required in a competitive retail environment. The knowledge and skills necessary to manage the packaging function is an essential requirement for supervisors and managers within the food industry.
Loughry Campus, the food centre for the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) has a long history of training food technologists. The programmes place an emphasis on ensuring that students have the practical skills as well as the theoretical knowledge required by employers. To support practical learning the campus has a 4,000 m2 food manufacturing facility with state-of-the-art processing and packaging equipment for meat, dairy, bakery, brewing and fruit and vegetable processing. These facilities support the delivery of technology transfer programmes to food and drink processing companies, including start-up businesses.
To select new, improved or more sustainable packaging technologies, it is essential to determine the likely performance characteristics of the packaging materials. The specialist facilities at Loughry’s Food Packaging Centre can assess a wide range of material and pack properties. In addition to material property determination, the Centre has the capability to evaluate performance characteristics both on line and throughout the supply chain. The laboratory is split into two areas, a transit testing facility and a material testing facility.
CAFRE introduced packaging technology to its portfolio of programmes 14 years ago and now has an established track record in training packaging technologists within Northern Ireland food and drink businesses.
Packaging technology has been integrated into the food education courses through specific packaging modules and incorporation of packaging elements into other food technology and management modules. Student research projects have included measurement of shock and vibration in distribution channels, permeability of plastic materials, and performance assessment of corrugated cases. All new product development exercises conducted by students involve the development of prototype packaging including material selection, physical design and pack graphics. Professor Margaret Patterson from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute judging the recent Ecotrophelia competition stated “Packaging is so important because that is what grabs the customer’s attention. The Loughry students produced an attractive eye-catching pack without compromising the technical performance required.”
Many people within the food industry become responsible for packaging through their primary roles in technical, purchasing or marketing. Loughry recognised the need to provide packaging training for those already in employment through part-time courses. The Campus is an approved centre for delivering the Packaging Industry Awarding Body Company’s Diploma in Packaging Technology. This highly respected qualification has been the principal packaging qualification within the UK for many years. The Loughry course attracts about 15 participants per year who value both the knowledge and the professional recognition afforded by the qualification.
Alistair Farmer, R&D Specialist at Delta Print and Packaging commented on the course: “Having the knowledge of packaging combined with the knowledge of food technology is essential in delivering safe, efficiently designed packaging formats that are fit for purpose for the range of international customers we serve in our current customer portfolio. It is essential to understand how each food type reacts within its packaging environment throughout its shelf-life and also to design the package to minimise its environmental impact after initial use”.
The Advanced Certificate in Packaging Technology is a workshop-based delivery programme, developed by the campus for those who work with packaging at operator and supervisor level. David Willis FIFST who recently completed this programme stated: “I was able to use the test facilities to complete a project which was of a direct benefit to my company.” David has gone on to become an Accredited Packaging Professional with the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining.
The development of the packaging specialism at Loughry Campus has ensured that the technologists and managers have an understanding of packaging materials and process and will be well placed to provide leadership for their companies.
For further information on the Packaging Programmes available at Loughry, please contact: Mary Ireland, Course Co-ordinator, Food Technology Education Branch, Loughry Campus, CAFRE, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, BT80 9AA.