Food packaging makes our food look wholesome and attractive. Over the years the methods and items employed in food packaging have evolved but have you ever thought about their health benefits or side effects on the food and your health? Take time to read this article.
There are various types of food packaging materials which include aseptic packaging (made of paper, aluminum and polyethylene to keep food sterile especially milk), thin-plastic bags (e.g. wrappers), wood, corrugated fiberboard, metal boxes, steel thin cans (coated with tin to prevent corrosion), corrugated cardboard cartons, leaves packaging (e.g. corn ask, banana/plantain, katemfe /eggplant), paper, bamboo, rubber, plastic, polythenes, Styrofoam, and re-usable packaging.
Many food vendors and companies’ package food in plastics, papers, rubbers, glass and metal containers. These materials used in food packaging keeps the food in its desired quality throughout the shelf life and also protect the food from contamination, tampering and damage. In many places, food packages determine the portion sizes and also display product information.
In Ghana and other parts of the world, rubber, plastic, polythenes, and Styrofoam packaging are widely used by many food vendors and companies. These packages add no medical benefits to the foods but rather have side effects which are not known to most of its users. When hot foods come into contact with these plastic, polythenes, and rubber packages, possible toxic compounds leaches into the food.
These toxic chemicals that leach into foods from plastic and rubber packages have been proven to cause cancer.
Packaging materials that are irradiated along with food can transfer unsafe non-food substances (toxins) into the food and can be dangerous to consumers.
Unlike plastic and rubber packages, leave packaging such as katemfe leaves to contain medicinal compounds which also leaches into the food they are used to wrap and impart a desirable flavour into the food. Katemfe leaves are safe for food packaging and also possess several benefits.
Currently, in some countries like Ghana, large leaves are still used as food packages at many food vending points. A typical example is a katemfe leaf from the katemfe plant also known as the miracle plant, sweet prayer plant or ewe Moi-Moi, which is used to package waakye in Ghana and used to wrap beans pudding in Nigeria. Another group of compounds that are released when katemfe leaves come into contact with foods includes flavonoids, saponins and tannins.
These compounds are very beneficial to the health of the consumers of the foods which are wrapped in katemfe leaves. Flavonoids are nutritive chemicals that can reduce your blood cholesterol and fats, ability to reduce the formation of blood clots, ability to effectively fight against viruses and protect the blood vessels. The saponins are also known to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, hence, lowering the risk for cancer in humans. Tannins are chemicals that can control your blood sugar levels.
There are food safety concerns when it comes to the use of leaves like the katemfe leave in food packaging. How these leaves are cleaned before using them as a food package is of much concern to the health of the buyers because these leaves come into direct contact with food.
Most vendors just use a napkin to wipe off the dust on the surfaces of these leaves before using them to dish out food to their buyers but this, not the best way of cleaning the leaves as improper cleaning of these leave creates room for the growth of microorganisms like bacteria that may contaminate the food and cause food-borne illness.
According to Mr Bezalel Adainoo, a renowned food scientist the best and proper way of cleaning these leaves to reduce any risk of microbial contamination before using to wrap food item is by washing the leaves with salt solution or water containing some vinegar and drain drying them in a well-covered, clean container is an effective way of cleaning the leaves and reducing the risk of microbial combination before they are used to wrap food.
The use of bamboo, paper, and re-usable packaging is also a healthy and safe alternate options food buyers, vendors and companies can explore to package food for their customers.