Consumers are driven by the desire to maximize time, and that doesn’t change when it comes to mealtimes. More meals are eaten on the go than ever before. Statista Inc.-compiled statistics indicate that American consumers now are consuming about half their weekly meals on the go, with only slight differences between the generations when it comes to number of meals per week eaten in motion.
While unwilling to compromise flavor, consumers are looking for convenience and health when they decide what they want to take on their commute or to the next appointment. The real growth in the hand-held meal industry is a direct result of leisure time becoming more of a scarcity.
Food consumption has been prioritized below lifestyle obligations and has birthed the creation of meal options that can be more closely incorporated into the time-consuming necessities of commuting, working and even exercising. Closer attention, too, is paid to further minimizing prep and clean-up, while expanding on health and wellness. Portable eats today must wear several hats to be a hit in the marketplace.
Innovation has been inspired by the increased prevalence in specialized diets and industry focus on health and wellness. The time crunch also increases impulse buying, or shopping becomes a rote task, leading to disengaged and habitual buying patterns. Today, more than ever, efficiency is at the forefront of consumers’ grocery shopping goals.
Innovation in on-the-go meal products also has been inspired by greater need for specialized diets and an industry increasingly focused on health and wellness. Efficiency must be a goal for culinologists who develop the next generation of these products.
Consumers’ choices are defined by the evolution of convenience food options. Not only supermarkets but big box stores, convenience stores and, recently, even pharmacies are displaying prominent grab-and-go meal sections. Visits to retail stores for prepared food orders during lunch hours have increased nearly a third in the past five years.
To meet this demand, plus capture consumer interest, once-standard offerings are expanding. From rotisserie chickens, pizza, wraps and burritos to sushi, panini, meal salads, and bento and “protein” boxes, food-to-go has seen a makeover that puts it squarely in the “dine-in restaurant quality” zone.
Millennials seem to be driving the grab-and-go category the most. They are notorious impulsive buyers-—and as late as two hours before dinner on a typical weeknight, nearly a third of Millennials don’t know what they’re having for dinner. This means these impulse purchases also carry an expectation of convenience.
The ability to conveniently grab a meal and continue with one’s day (while still feeling satisfied with the flavor and believing there will be some health benefit) is one reason the grab-and-go food industry has thrived during the past five years and continues with exponential growth. As food product designers dive into the ready-to-eat deep end, they also are faced with the challenges of creating products that are gluten-free, vegan or fit a variety of other special categories.
Protein is Prime
Differentiation is found with value- added twists. Food creators focus on macronutrients, such as protein to promote satiety, or micronutrients (i.e., vitamin blends) to bring a healthier aspect to quick eats. The idea is to make products that allow consumers to have such benefits available without the burden of devoting time, energy and resources to preparing a whole, sit-down meal.
Protein remains the center of easy meals, especially with its recent positioning as an energy source and a satiety provider for those watching their weight. While chicken is a favorite protein, eggs have expanded from breakfast-on-the-go to anytime on-the-go, one-hand meals. The vegan trend has seen more use of tofu, with crossovers bringing the Asian soy protein source into Southwestern, Tex-Mex or other cuisines that appeal to fusion-loving foodies.
Another healthful legume has exploded on the packaged meals scene: chick peas. In the form of hummus, the high-protein, high-fiber, filling vegan ingredient has shown versatility in stretching out of its Mediterranean borders to showcase ingredients such as sriracha or chipotle chili peppers as flavoring.
Hummus in small cups certainly has hit big; lately, full-blown kits are using hummus for a base and including all the necessary side pieces, from pita or pita chips to the decidedly non-ethnic veggie crisps and quinoa chips. The latter are featured in the Wild Garden Mediterranean Foods Inc. line of hummus-to-go kits that put the two components—dip and chip—in a single package.
Sabra Dipping Co., one of the leaders in hummus and largely responsible for making it a household word in this country, released its line of Hummus Singles in a variety of flavors, from traditional to pizza to guacamole and roasted red pepper. While some flavors include pita chips, some are packed with pretzel sticks, and the Latin-influenced flavors come with tortilla chips.
One hummus kit recently launched derives its protein from both the chick pea spread and added chicken strips. Hummus Plus, by Pure Mediterranean Foods Inc., is a combination of flavored grilled chicken breast strips in a bowl nested in another bowl containing a flavored hummus, sold as a single pack. The meal can be enjoyed hot or cold and boasts 28g protein.
Flavor combos, such as garlic hummus with chipotle chicken, and roasted red pepper hummus with barbecue chicken, take advantage of the fusion cuisine trend by tastefully mixing cuisines to appeal to more adventurous—and less rule-bound palates.
Egg sandwiches (and wraps and other fast bites) are back, too. They’ve become a primary protein in “crossover” or “brunch” items that work for both breakfast and lunch. The American Egg Board (AEB) announced these items as among the “leading categories for new product introductions in 2014 that use egg ingredients,” compared to 2013, and as tracked by Mintel Inc.’s Global New Products Database (GNPD).
According to the AEB, sandwiches and wraps help energize the frozen food section in retail. According to the IRI research group, sales of frozen breakfast items, such as sandwiches and burritos, grew 6.7%, and breakfast entrée sales grew 5% in the 12-month period ending in August 2014, with multiple national brands introducing new items.
Meat Made Movable
Regarding animal protein processing, John Shackelford, MS, research chef for Diversified Foods & Seasonings LLC, a manufacturer specializing in kettle cooked foods, points to a number of challenges in keeping protein intact, fresh and flavorful when shooting for long shelflife but maximum “carry.”
“In meat processing, it is common to incorporate phosphates to increase water-holding capabilities—consequently improving the palatability and producing a more tender bite—while keeping the protein tender for longer and aiding in maintaining moisture, post-cook,” explains Shackelford. “Phosphates also offer ‘hardiness’ when confronted with freeze-thaw cycles. The increased water holding reduces the purge, or ‘drip loss’ in re-therm, and reduces the risk of moisture migration.”
Shackelford also notes phosphate use increases product yield, shelflife, organoleptic quality and allows for an “altogether superior product,” with the capacity to “perform under the abuse that grab-and-go foods face.”
In explaining preferred methods of preparing animal proteins with phosphates, Shackelford says, “Tumbling or vacuum tumbling chicken, pork or shellfish with brines containing phosphates is commonplace in the industry, allowing for a higher percentage—and a much more rapid incorporation—of brine to migrate into the product.”
Shackelford further adds, “The process promotes flavor development and increases the functionality of the phosphates.” The technology also can be adopted for less-desirable cuts of meats to “permeate the protein with all the added functionality of phosphates, while still ensuring a cost-effective product.”
“This is especially important in foods destined for grab-and-go, because these products often are marketed at competitive price points and, thus, require an extended shelflife,” Shackelford contributes.
Shackelford also points to the value of emulsifiers for sauces and other easily problematic components of an all-in-one formulation designed for one-handed enjoyment. “When developing an emulsified product that requires heating, using functional ingredients is important. It is vital to ensure a blend of emulsifiers to prevent separation and allow for long holding times on hot tables, prior to packaging.”
Take, for example, the deli sections of grocery stores as examples of the indispensability of such ingredients in sauce components. That most popular take-away comfort item, macaroni and cheese, can sit for hours and be expected to remain stable, visually appealing, deliver great flavor and meet a tight price target.
“You’ll often find emulsifiers such as diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides (DATEM), soy lecithin, and mono- and diglycerides doing the heavy lifting in similar products.” Shackelford cautions. “However, dairy-based sauces pose an additional challenge, as the stability during processing is quite sensitive and highly influenced by pH. Therefore, any ingredient or particulate addition must be calculated to prevent breakage or coagulation.”
Dairy-based sauces are thus another application where the functionality of phosphates can be employed, according to Shackelford, as “they provide both excellent emulsifying and buffering capabilities. The synergy of functional ingredients allows us to produce a more desirable product for the consumer while ensure processing stability through manufacturing.”
Bars to Bistro to Bento
One impetus for the popularity of the quick hand-held lunch could be considered the natural offshoot of restaurants such as Starbucks. Upselling the steady flow of coffee buyers with a pastry, then slightly more complicated eats and finally sandwiches turned the global coffee bar into a major player in the sandwich arena.
In an odd sort of retroactive progression, the company and its competitors also are focusing on taking over a larger chunk of the breakfast food market, as well as moving deeper into lunch fare. Starbucks’ product developers have created a number of hot options, as well as the company’s new Bistro Box line, touting health benefits on the go.
Varieties developed for the line include the Protein Bistro Box, the Omega-3 Bistro Box, and the Thai Style Peanut Chicken Wrap. These creations focus on all the trends, from fast and fresh to the health halo of nutritional component claims. Labels for some of the offerings include claims indicating high fiber and other health specifics.
In order to satisfy consumer demands, successful product launches in this category must be the perfect storm of health conscious, added value and innovation wrapped in a captivating and approachable package. Technical innovations pave the way for new offerings to make their way to the grab-and-go section by promoting longevity and retarding staling, spoilage and wilting.
Bento boxes themselves are enjoying not only an increase in popularity but an expansion of offerings, sometimes crossing ethnic lines. A guacamole with pico de gallo and tortilla chips take-out, bento style, shares nothing but presentation with the Japanese original. Some Thai venues are making their versions of the Japanese classic.
Bars have a long history serving as a meal in a pinch, but most are more “tide over” snacks to get the consumer from one meal to the next. They lack the satisfaction of being a true meal on the go. The reason is not only size, but the fact that nearly all “meal replacement” bars are sweet. A few years ago, meat-based bars catering heavily to the protein trend appeared on the scene.
Epic LLC’s line of meat bars are touted as “grass-fed, animal-based protein bars” and, while they contain more than meat (apple and bacon, cranberry and bison, coconut and beef, beef with bacon, nuts, berries and other fruits etc.), they still are positioned as another form of jerky. Other products in this category are similar.
Mediterra Inc. released a line of bars last year that it presented simultaneously as “the first ever truly savory nutrition bars” and “the first all-natural nutrition bars inspired by the Mediterranean Diet.” The savory bars include one with sundried tomatoes, capers and basil and another containing olives, walnuts and chives.
While marketing them as both clean label health and convenience options, the company also clearly identifies them as being snacks. Still, the products are touted as being “portable sustenance adapted to today’s hectic lifestyles.”
Nestlé S.A.’s Hot Pocket line is the grandfather of American grab-and-go eating. The now-decades-old savory microwave turnover has made concerted efforts to update and keep its “irresistibly hot” status. Upscale makeovers such as using Angus beef, higher-quality cheese and chicken breast meat, coupled with the addition of outer pockets of croissant dough and pretzel bread, have been helping the brand revive after several setbacks.
Where pocket sandwiches and other heat-and-eat frozen products are enjoying the most popularity are the niche brands designed to appeal to the aforementioned Millennial palates and health-conscious, on-the-go set. Go Fusion Foods LLC launched a new frozen sandwich filled with distinct flavors that combine Asian with Latin, Southwestern and other cuisine types.
Go Fusion bread pockets make for a fully enclosed sandwich that is formed into a steamed-bun shape that places the Asian cuisine roots of the product at the forefront. Flavors include Korean Jambalaya, Bourbon Chicken, Lemongrass Curry, Szechuan Taco, Peking Chicken and Braised Teriyaki.
A healthy makeover of the breakfast sandwich by Vitalicious Inc., too, has proven successful. The company’s cholesterol-free VitaEgg Flatbread Sandwich took the unprecedented approach of re-incorporating the nutrients found in egg yolk while removing the cholesterol. The low-calorie (120 per each 3.2oz sandwich), is filling without high fat—it contains just 1.5g—because it has 7g of fiber. The scrambled egg is fluffy, and is paired with cheese and vegetables or turkey sausage or a vegetarian sausage patty. Formulators of the VitaEgg add in many of the micronutrients contained in the yolk.
Since the top culprits of failure in the category of fast and fresh foods are soggy sandwiches and wraps, developers recognize that the important components are the edible containers for the foods—the breads, tortillas and other fundamental ingredients.
“Many pita-style flatbreads are best suited to serving sandwiches on a plate, with generous amounts of meats and salads, requiring a fork,” says Steve Kontos, vice president of Kontos Foods Inc., a N.J.-based company that makes more than 50 varieties of flatbread. “Other flatbreads, however—such as our lavash bread—are specially formulated to wrap a sandwich neatly for grab-and-go style eating.”
Kontos formulates all of its breads to stand up to a variety of fillings and condiments. “Lavash is a soft, pliable 9-by-11in, rectangular flatbread that can be rolled in both directions,” explains Kontos. “Because it is yeast-based, it will absorb moisture and not fall apart. In addition to wraps, it also can be used to make ‘pinwheels’ for appetizers,” he adds.
Kontos’ French-style crepes also can be used to make grab-and-go sandwiches. “Our crepes have been made specifically to strike a balance between their delicious, delicate flavor and versatile texture,” says Kontos. “They’re sturdy enough to act as a host for cone-type wraps for sweet or savory applications. Additionally, they weigh in at only about a third of the calories of a traditional wrap of the same size.”
Tiana Caponio is a product developer at HMR Pasta Kitchen Inc. She says her past technical work with several bakeries taught her about the challenges with artisanal bread products such as lavash, pita, etc.
“At ambient temperatures, the shelflife of yeast-risen breads is typically limited by mold growth,” she says. “At refrigeration temperatures, however, staling becomes the limiting factor.”
The process of staling—starch retrogradation—often is reduced by the addition of enzymes, in particular amylases, to prolong bread softness. Emulsifiers such as lecithins and monoglycerides, also can be used to slow starch retrogradation and improve moisture retention within the product.
As consumers become increasingly aware of the ingredients in the food they purchase, the demand for clean label products extends to the grab-and-go foods sector. In the bakery industry, breads have become more than just a source of carbohydrates.
Fats and protein in the form of nuts, seeds and legumes are now appearing in a number of products. Sensible portions and individually packaged bakery items have also been emerging in the market to satisfy consumer demand.
With the launch of its new REV Wraps line, Hormel Inc. is putting its own mark on this segment. The company’s revamp of single-serve wraps offers an unprecedented 18 varieties, some touting high protein, others different attractions. As a “stimulating” value-added item, the wraps are an extension of Hormel’s Energy AM line but include breakfast-style meals, as well as some more suited to lunch occasions.
The product line was developed to incorporate functional ingredients that appeal to both health and portability. (Running counter to the minimalism trend, 81 distinct ingredients appear on the label of the Italian Style REV Wrap.) Contributing to the longevity and integrity of the wrap itself is one ingredient that also seems to run counter to current trends: wheat gluten.
Keeping it Together
Wheat gluten can be an integral part of bread-based, hand-held products. “Wheat gluten is a natural protein derived from wheat or wheat flour, which can be refined into a highly functional, protein-rich powder,” states a description from the International Wheat Gluten Assn., explaining further that, “When re-hydrated, [gluten] regains its original characteristics. So unique is the functionality of wheat gluten and so persistent is the structural integrity after cooking, it appears to have no functional competitor.”
Wheat gluten, although still suffering from bad publicity and misinformation, triggers adverse conditions in only a minute percentage of the population. However, it is an excellent structural stabilizer, providing strength to withstand temperature abuse, and works to extend shelflife. It also promotes improved dough mixing, moisture retention and breakage tolerance. The similarly named, yet distinct, wheat protein isolate also contributes to strength, elasticity and increasing protein content in baked goods.
Products employing gluten have the added benefits of increased freeze-thaw performance, while manufacturers gain the additional benefit of reduced egg or dairy protein ingredients, as well as lower ingredient costs.
The sauces and dressings of a portable meal certainly create hurdles the developer must overcome for market success. This is especially critical for those items that are thawed and or reheated from a frozen state.
Freezing can lead to syneresis and crystallization of proteins and other particulates, causing separation, off colors and flavors, and either grainy or mushy textures, depending on the ingredients affected.
Most developers turn to gums and starches with hydrocolloidal properties. Xanthan gum is a common solution for stabilizing emulsions in sauces. However, carob (locust) bean gum can be used to control sauce texture throughout the freeze/thaw/reheat cycle, and being plant derived, offers an alternative for manufacturers seeking a more natural solution.
A study by the global research group Mintel revealed that “natural” starches are being used in more new product launches than are modified starches for the first time since 2009. Mintel reported that, out of these new product launches, prepared meals are the second-largest user of non-modified starches.
The natural starches noted as being used in ready meals and sauces include starches derived from corn, potato, wheat, cassava and rice. Rice starch is increasing in popularity in ready meals—especially convenience meals—due to benefits of neutral taste and clean label capacity.
While flavor, convenience and speed are critical to today’s portable meals, clean label still matters. Consumers search for clarity within the ingredient statement, and it is important the final product satisfies their mandate to know exactly what they are eating.
A study by BBMG Inc., a brand and innovation consultancy firm, titled “Thinking Consumption: Consumers and the Future of Sustainability,” revealed that 82% of consumers insist, “Ingredient transparency is a very important or important factor” when shopping for food and beverage products.
One way grab-and-go foods cater to the clean label demand is by removing artificial colors. Typically, these are either not replaced or replaced with natural, fruit- or vegetable-based colors. Today’s natural colorants yield vibrant and long-lasting colors. They can be added to a formulation to enhance the visual appeal of an item, without negatively affect the label. In many cases, such ingredients can actually enhance the perception of health.
Going clean also presents a challenge when it comes to shelflife. One of the biggest challenges in this area is oxidation, especially concerning fresh produce, such as in RTE sandwiches, salad kits and the like. While oxidation of fruit can be retarded by adding a fruit acid, such as lemon juice, this also affects the flavor.
Commercial alternatives include Ethylenediamine tetra-acetic acid (EDTA), a chelating agent that sequesters reactive metal ions within the product. EDTA prevents catalytic oxidative discoloration of the food products and allows cut fruit to remain on the shelf for an extended period of time.
When fruit undergoes cellular damage during slicing or cutting, the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO) is released, causing browning on the surface of the fruit. PPO is a metalloenzyme containing copper at its active site, and a chelating agent such as EDTA will sequester the copper ion and prevent PPO from functioning—thereby preventing the browning reaction and maintaining the visual perception of freshness.
However, EDTA is derived from forms of formaldehyde and sodium cyanide, ruling it out for clean label products. Fortunately, researchers have developed washes and coatings for prepared fresh produce. These typically are made from fruit acid and include mineral blends. Such proprietary solutions can coat the cut produce product, inhibiting browning reactions; preventing microbial growth; and extending shelflife.
Many of these coatings are considered a preparation agent and would not need to be labelled on the packaging. Fruit cups, for example, are put to use across multiple formats—as a fruit salad blend, in a compartmentalized yogurt snack or as inclusions in salad kits.
Such fruit cups typically must have a shelflife of up to 21 days. In preventing this spoilage, fruit coatings have allowed for the increased consumption of fruit in both children and adults.
According to a recent study on America’s Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables by the Produce for Better Health Foundation, the sale of in-store, fresh fruit has increased 4% in the last five years. Meanwhile, the consumption of canned fruits and vegetables has decreased 13% in the same time period.
The convenience of the packaging and the freshness of prepared fruits likely has inspired this consumer trend toward freshness. Moreover, such natural anti-browning agents give the option greater availability.
Have a Salad
Salad kits turned one of the most perishable items into a multibillion dollar industry through the use of food and packaging technology that more than doubled the shelflife of cut lettuce and other salad greens, and cut fruit and vegetable sides.
In order to maintain freshness throughout the shelflife of a leafy green product and other packaged food products packaging companies turned to modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), first popularized more than two decades ago.
Research shows that by altering the levels of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide in the contained space of the salad kit, the sugar and organic acid changes are delayed; the respiration rate of the product decreases; and color and firmness are maintained.
In studies comparing an acid treatment to the product (0.3% ascorbic/citric acid) to advanced packaging methods (including MAP, along with selective barrier plastic materials), the packaging technology worked more effectively and for the duration of the shelflife.
A recent paradigm shift has centered on the packaging, applying it to sturdier plastic boxes and clamshell-style containers that make it easier for consumers to combine the constituents, add dressing and enjoy the meal right out of the container.
One of the best examples of the new format could be Earthbound Farm Organic LLC’s certified-organic, ready-to-eat salad kits and PowerMeal Bowls. Developed by the company’s executive chef Sarah LaCasse as “classic salads for the modern palate,” the RTE kits, depending on the variety, include combinations of mixed organic greens, such as kale, spinach and arugula; dressings and inclusions/toppings, such as dried tomatoes, olives, dried berries, nuts, seeds, cheeses and croutons—to create a nutritionally balanced salad meal.
According to the company’s marketing, typical of all its products, the new line uses “produce grown in accordance with the company’s industry-leading food-safety and organic-integrity programs.” They also are presented in clamshell containers made from recycled plastic bottles and competitively priced between $4.99-$5.99.
The MAP technology works best when in conjunction with colder temperatures (approximately 41˚F), so the proper storage of salad kits at both store and home level is critical in the maintenance and fresh appearance of the produce.
“It is important that convenience foods are not only convenient, but there must be a perception of value displayed, as well,” says Jason Maw, executive chef for Scarlett House Catering Inc., providers of in-flight prepared meal solutions. “Perceived value is key, and this is where packaging can help. With clear containers that allow the vibrancy and freshness to show through, or with eye-catching and impressive artwork on the package, the product can grab the attention of the in-and-out shopper.”
The technology behind grab-and-go foods will continue to evolve, in terms of concept and flavor, packaging, sustainability and shelflife extension. Although consumers seek natural options when it is affordable, important ingredients and processing aids help culinologists and other food formulation team members create a desired product, in terms of flavor, convenience and affordability.
Liz Chan and Kirsten Benneter are research chefs/food scientists in New Product Innovation for Giraffe Food & Beverage Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario. They and the Giraffe team are specialists in creating private label, custom-formulated sauces, dips and dressings intended for both retail and food service. They can be reached at www.giraffefoods.com.
Meal solutions that allow consumers to experience restaurant-quality foods with little or no preparation on a budget, and that offer added health benefits appeal greatly to a generation more focused than ever on maximizing quality. The grab-and-go segment is heralded as a ripe opportunity to increase sales across all meal occasions.
Food marketing has focused its attention on the needs and wants of Millennials in order to capitalize on the immense buying power of a generation that spends 43% of its food budget outside of the home. This cohort has a vested interest in the “foodie” movement and, combined with a seeming unwillingness or inability to invest time in dining, is positioned as a prime target for ready meal solutions.
The development of grab-and-go foods has been further stimulated by recent technological innovations that allow consumers to order food through apps on their mobile devices or via text message. This, plus increased scrutiny on food products that can bring gourmet-level meals to 21st Century versions of automats and vending machines, creates both challenges and opportunities for creative research chefs.
Not All Snacks are Snacks
A survey by Kantar Group Co.’s TNS global research consultancy, using Growth Point, its “new proprietary directional tool that captures unmet needs of consumers and category momentum in US markets” revealed the “Top 20 snack categories with the most growth potential among US consumers.”
The surprise? Numbers six and 11 are not snacks at all, but “soft tortillas/wraps/pitas” and “protein-based sandwiches (chicken/tuna),” respectively. According to the company, Growth Point generates its rankings from TNS’s Consumption Universe, which consists of more than 19,000 consumer interviews and covers 250 US food and beverage products. The company further notes that its analysis “combines a degree of unmet consumer needs with a degree of momentum that each product area has—momentum—meaning consumers are moving into that product segment rather than moving out of it.” And, it clarifies that “where there [are] both unmet needs and positive momentum, manufacturers can realize significant growth potential.”
Flavors, Health Drive Sandwich Trends
In one of its most recent Culinary Trend Tracking Series (CuTTS) reports, “Sandwich Culinary Trends Driven By Flavor Adventure, Healthier Ingredients,” Packaged Facts Inc. described how “away-from-home options for grabbing a sandwich extend beyond restaurants, cafes and fast food and into the retail sector.” According to the survey, one in seven respondents indicated they had “gotten a sandwich at a supermarket or convenience store within the last week, illustrating the broadening reach of made-to-order deli and other foodservice options within food-retailing channels.”
To learn more about the CuTTS, our the research series, please view our the resource page:
Green is for Go
When on the go, consumers are increasingly picking whatever is the healthier option. For this reason, salad kits have become huge hits as meals to take away. Leading vegetable-washing and packaging company companies ensure high-quality and consistency by following important steps from farm to shelf. In the fields, each batch of greens and other produce is visually inspected for defects, like broken leaves and insect damage, then tested for microorganisms before harvesting.
Upon harvesting, the produce is brought to the facility—often situated in or near the fields rather than off-site—and goes through a vacuum cooling process. This quickly decreases the temperature to 33°F-35°F, the safe zone for most microbial growth, and also increases shelflife. The product is intermittently tested for all aspects (microorganisms, organoleptic properties, etc.). After chilling, lettuce and leafy greens are triple-washed. One of these washes contains a chlorine or paracetic acid solution at a precise low concentration in order to sanitize the produce and prevent further microbial growth.
After passing through machine inspection to eliminate any foreign objects, leafy greens go through a dryer and, subsequently, an electronic inspection system to catch any foreign matter not previously discovered. Depending on the variety of the produce, it will be packaged in a manner unique to that product, preserving quality through packaging, transportation and time on the shelf.
If the product requires a higher respiration rate, it can be controlled by microperforated film wrapping. When requiring modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), precise levels of oxygen and nitrogen are injected into the tray containing the salad or vegetables, controlling the respiration rate of the produce and preventing oxidation or microorganism growth.
Most importantly, it is the preservation of the cold temperatures throughout the life cycle of the produce that will maintain the high quality of produce consumers demand.