Leaks are never good. Packaging leaks, Water leaks, gas leaks, leaks in your inflatable dinghy when you’re in the middle of the lake at the very furthest point from…they all spell potential disaster.

This is especially true for the Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) industry. Thanks to extensive testing and research, we now know that even the tiniest leak can cause the contents of the pack to deteriorate very quickly. In a pack where most of the oxygen has been removed, a hole that is only 50 microns in diameter – that’s half the width of a human hair – can allow enough oxygen to enter in just three days to allow bacteria to flourish and mould to grow.

If leaking MAP products end up on supermarket shelves, there will undoubtedly be consequences for the supplier. Shelf life will be significantly reduced, sell-by dates become worthless, and the overall image of the brand could be negatively affected.

What Causes Packaging Leaks?

Leaks in modified atmosphere packaging can be caused by a number of things.

Very often, the pack hasn’t sealed properly because small particles from the product itself have become stuck in the seal. Occasionally there is a problem with the sealing machine itself – the heating element that creates the thermal seal could be defective or misaligned, or there might be a problem with the pressure, heat or duration of the sealing process. And sometimes, rough handling of the packaging during transport is to blame.

How Are Packaging Leaks Detected?

Most leaks are invisible to the naked eye, but it’s vital that they are detected as quickly as possible – without damaging the packaging.

Previously, leak testing was most often carried out by placing the package in a water bath leak detector. The top of the water bath was then sealed, and the air is drawn out to create a vacuum. The reduced pressure in the bath caused the headspace gas inside the package to expand, and, if there was a leak, produced a stream of bubbles in the water. Although the method worked, it was messy, cumbersome and very time-consuming.

Thankfully, researchers have developed better, faster and more efficient ways of testing for leaks in modified atmosphere packaging. These new systems offer non-destructive, online and off-line leak detection of modified atmosphere packages, as well as entire shipping crates, for seal integrity assurance.

At Mapflex South Africa, we specialise in Modified Atmosphere Packaging and invest considerable resources into ongoing research, ensuring we take advantage of the latest technology available to bring you leak-free fresh food packaging solutions you can trust. Contact us today to find out more.