Research carried out by the Consortium of Parma Ham has identified alternative materials for plastic product packaging.
Sales of Parma Ham packs have increased with more than 90 million packs sold in 2022 but increased sales now pose a new challenge: reducing the environmental impact of packaging.
“Parma Ham has always played a fundamental role for the social and economic resilience of the province of Parma, and this role must also include the environmental aspect, which is all the more important for a PDO such as ours,” says Alessandro Utini, president of the consortium. “Our task must be to invest in research and coordinate the commitment and efforts of the companies in the sector, in order to reduce the environmental impact of our production activities.”
With the aim of strengthening the environmental sustainability and circular economy of Parma Ham, the Consortium carried out in-depth research in collaboration with the Experimental Station for the Parma Food Conservation Industry (SSICA), to test alternative and more sustainable materials than those traditionally used for packaging pre-sliced ham.
Shelf-life tests were carried out with packaging from several sources and with different recycling methods such as paper, recyclable PET and compostable bioplastics.
The use of alternative materials stems from the desire to guarantee a supply of sustainable raw materials of renewable origin and the need to foster every possible form of reuse or recovery of waste after consumption. The selected materials were used for packaging trials in a protective atmosphere with Parma Hams from different producers and maturation periods, ranging from 16 to 20 months.
“At the end of the monitoring period, the packs underwent chemical-physical, sensory and microbiological analyses with extremely significant results,” Utin said. “Packs consisting of paper tray and paper top (with or without transparent window), yielded even better preservation performance than traditional materials, also in terms of durability. Paper is therefore an excellent solution for the packaging of our pre-packed products, thanks to its recyclability, ease of reuse and origin from a renewable source,”
The other materials tested did not disappoint expectations either: the PET tray, with a shorter shelf-life than paper, is suitable for sale in transparent packaging, while the compostable bioplastic-based packages guarantee a shorter shelf-life, compatible with the ‘take away’ sales formula.
“The research has successfully identified valid alternatives to traditional packaging and has provided manufacturing and packaging companies with important tools to support their already substantial commitment to sustainability. The transition to alternative and more sustainable materials, even in a macro-economic and production context that will require commitment and time to be fully implemented, and is therefore not only desirable but finally possible,” Utini concludes.