An overview of fresh red meat packaging

Global consumers’ demand for various meat products is very huge, according to 2018 statistics, the world consumes approximately 340 million tons of meat products every year, of which red meat mainly includes beef, pork, lamb, etc., about 2.1 million tons. Such huge consumption puts higher requirements for the fresh meat packaging, production, processing, storage and transportation of fresh meat. Suitable packaging storage technologies can not only effectively extend the shelf life of fresh meat, but also effectively reduce the waste of food.

fresh meat packaging machine

Three factors determine shelf life of fresh meat

In general, the shelf life of fresh meat is mainly determined by these three factors: storage temperaturesanitation, and packaging method. Although we are only talking about fresh meat packaging in this article, but please keep in mind that all the 3 factors are key to prolong food shelf life.

Benefits of proper fresh meat packaging

  1. Proper fresh meat packaging can effectively extend the shelf life and reduce food waste. Packaging cannot change the quality of the fresh meat, (that’s why quality inspection before packaging is important) however, the correct packaging can extend food shelf life by avoiding microorganisms growth and external pollution, oxidation and meat decay, the loss of moisture, etc., thereby ensuring the quality of the product.
  2. Proper fresh meat packaging can improve transportation and storage efficiency. It takes quite a few hours or days to deliver fresh meat from the manufacturer to the consumer. Proper packaging can protect the meat from accidental damage, and make it easier to load/unload trucks.
  3. Proper fresh meat packaging can promote sales. Choose fresh meat packaging materials and packaging types according to consumers’ interests can not only attract consumers, but also improve the added value and competitiveness of the products. For example: Packagines that are aesthetic designed, simple and convenient to carry, etc., can promote the sales of products.
fresh meat packaging machine

Fresh meat packaging types

At present, the main packaging methods of fresh meat are: Stretch film tray wrappingvacuum packaging (including shrink pack)VSP vacuum skin packaging and MAP modified atmosphere packaging. Different packaging types have different advantages and offer different shelf life for fresh meat, which one to choose is determined by the type of fresh meat, storage and transportation requirements, sales requirements, etc.

Fresh meat packaging 1: Stretch film tray wrapping

ground beef meat packaging in foam trays wrapped by stretch film
Ground beef packaged in foam tray


Research shows that approximately two-thirds of fresh meat sold is packaged in supermarkets or food stores with simple stretch film tray wrapping method.

Fresh meat foam tray stretch film wrapping method uses a foam tray which holds the meat and an absorbent pad wrapped with a clear atmosphere permeable plastic film.

Advantages: The permeability characteristics of the wrapping film allow oxygen in the air to come in contact with the meat, which makes the meat to show an attractive red color to consumers. This type of packaging is very economical in packaging material (foam trays and stretching films) and utilize cost-effective equipment, usually use small manual type stretch film wrapper machine that costs around USD 100. But for automatic and large capacity Stretch film tray wrapping, there are several types of automatic wrapper machines that costs much more.

Disadvantages: Amongst the packaging methods we are talking about in this article, stretch film wrapping offers the shortest shelf lifebecause the meat is continuously exposed to oxygen, so the fresh meats are prone to protein oxidation and fat oxidation. The shelf life is about 3-5 days in low-temperature storage, after then fresh meat color starts to turn dark, and quality is decreasing.

Fresh meat tretch film tray wrapping machine

Slow speed small manual type stretch film wrapping machines are usually used in food shops and grocery stores. Yide Machinery has introduced several automatic stretch film tray wrapper machine to fulfill the packaging requirements of large quantities. Please check the machine page for details.

Please check this video to see how the automatic stretching film tray wrapper machine works. Use this machine can effectively improve the packaging speed to 15 trays/minute, which is 3-4 times more than manual wrapping.

YouTube video

Fresh meat packaging 2: Vacuum packaging and hot water shrinking

vacuum packed fresh meat
Vacuum Packed but Not Shrinked Fresh Meat
vacuum shrink packed beef meat
Vacuum Shrink Packed Fresh Meat


Vacuum Packaging is one of the main packaging types for fresh meat. A pre-made plastic pouch/bag (for chamber vacuum packaging machines) or plastic film roll (for thermoforming vacuum packaging machines) made from materials that provide a strong barrier of protection against abrasion, moisture migration and gas permeability.

After meat cuts are placed in the pre-made or thermoformed pouch/bag, they are placed into a packaging machine that removes residual air from the pouch and seals the package to prevent additional air from entering. After vacuum sealing the packages are often placed into hot water shrink dip tank for a short time to allow the package to shrink around the meat, which improves the appearance and strength of the package.

Fresh meat packaged this way presents a more purplish color that customer are not as familiar with, and this is caused by the lack of oxygen. The fresh meat in vacuum & shrink packaging have a greater amount of consumer appeal when packaged. One advantage of vacuum packaging is an extended case life.

Advantages of fresh meat vacuum shrink pack

  1. Exten fresh meat shelf life
  2. Eliminate freezer burn
  3. The shrinking process thickens the packaging bag and makes the packaging material tougher
  4. Shrink packaging eliminates packaging wrinkles and small stripes, prevents blood penetration and affects the color and taste of fat
  5. Shrinkage reduces the “capillary” phenomenon caused by film wrinkles
  6. Shrinkage can further reduce the oxygen permeability of the packaging bag
  7. When the packaging is accidentally damaged during the distribution process, the shrinked packaging is not easy to loosen, so that the meat is in a relatively protected state, thereby reducing losses.

Fresh meat vacuum shrink packaging machine

The process of vacuum packing and shrinking are actually independent. Hot water shrink pack is carried out after the fresh meat is vacuum packed in a vacuum packing machine, usually a double chamber vacuum packing machine. Please check the following video for reference.

YouTube video

Fresh meat packaging 3: VSP vacuum skin packaging

meat vacuum skin packaging machine


Vacuum skin packaging is an advanced version of vacuum pack. It offers all the benefits of vacuum packing, while presents an attractive 3D appearance of the fresh meat product, which is perfect for retailing of high-value products.

Because of the high level of product protection and attractive appearance, VSP vacuum skin pack is more and more used in the self-service retail sector. This type of package involves the upper skin pack film being tightly draped around the fresh meat without tension like a second skin, before being sealed to the entire surface of the lower web (thermoforming vacuum skin packaging machine), cardboards or pre-made tray (Skin pack machine for pre-made trays or cardboards). The fresh meat is fixed firmly to the base of the pack or tray, keeps its natural appearance without distortion, and it can not slide around, so the vacuum skin packed fresh meat products can be presented at the point of sale as either a stand-up pack, a hanging pack or a conventional horizontal pack. The vacuum in the pack contributes to an extended shelf life for the fresh meat. In addition to soft meat like fillet pieces, other products with sharp or hard features, such as bones for example, can also be packed securely in vacuum skin pack. If vacuum skin packs are stored in the freezer, they also provide reliable protection against freezer burn.

In vacuum skin pack of fresh meat, it is essential to select suitable skin pack film material. The mechanical properties of the upper web must be designed for the shape and height of the particular product, so that even those products with high protrusion or sharp features can be packaged attractively and securely. Suitably dimensioned standard trays must be used for producing vacuum skin packs on traysealers. With thermoforming packaging on the other hand, reel-fed upper and lower webs are used to produce the packs. In addition to logistical and financial benefits, the advantages of reel-fed materials lie in the fact that universally used films can be utilised and there is a higher degree of flexibility, since packs can be produced to individual designs, for example with specially formed contours or other features.

Yide Machinery has published a post Ultimate Guide: VSP Vacuum Skin Pack and Vacuum Skin Packaging Machine” to explain the basic knowledge of vacuum skin packaging and skin pack machines.

Fresh meat vacuum skin packaging machines

tabletop vacuum skin packaging machine
Table top vacuum skin pack machine is recommended for starters

Currently there are 5 types of vacuum skin packaging machines widely used in vacuum skin packaging of fresh meat, each with different production speed and cost. 4 of them work with pre-made trays or cardboards, while the other one is thermoforming vacuum skin packaging machine that uses 2 roll of plastic sheet to form the tray automatically.

The choosing of vacuum skin pack machine to your project largely depend on your preferable packing material and budget plan. For starters, Yide Machinery recommend the small size Table Top Vacuum Skin Packaging Machine that costs less than USD3000. You can use the machine to test the quality of vacuum skin pack, and for small quantity skin pack production.

Fresh meat packaging 4: MAP modified atmosphere pacakging


  1. MAP packaging material: MAP Modified Atmosphere Packaging involves a rigid plastic tray which hold the meat product, an absorbent pad to absorb the meat blood, and sealed with a clear high barrier plastic film.
  2. MAP modified atmosphere packaging machine: MAP packaging is mainly proceeded by various tray sealer machines and thermoforming packaging machines.
  3. MAP gases: The typical modified atmospheres are purified gasses found in the air (oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and or carbon monoxide) or the mixture of them with certain mixing percentage.  Each of the added gases serves a specific purpose in the modified atmosphere packaging process.
  4. MAP modified atmosphere packaging process: Users should firstly prepare pre-made plastic trays (for tray sealers) or thermoforming film (for thermoforming MAP packaging machines). After the fresh meat products are placed into the trays, the trays are conveyed into a working chamber to evacuate the air in the whole chamber, then fill in modified atmosphere. The top strip is then sealed to the formed package. range of packaging materials in various plastics, as well as paper fiber-based materials, are available for the production of MAP packaging.
modified atmosphere packaging of fresh meat

MAP Modified Atmosphere Packaging is often used for the packaging of fresh food products in the retailing section, such as ground beef, steak or chops, pork meat, lamb meat. The natural atmosphere of the MAP modified atmosphere packaging is replaced by pure gases or mixed gases which is appropriate for particular fresh food products. The gas mixture generally consists of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. In determining the modified atmosphere for a given product, we must consider the chemical processes that take place during the storage of the fresh meat products, because the barrier properties of the packaging material can never be REALLY 100 %.

In the modified atmosphere packaging of fresh meat, a mixture of Oxygen (60/70%) and Carbon dioxide (20-30%) is often used as modified atmosphere. The amount of oxygen must be individually adapted to the amount of CO2 required, and the barrier properties of the packaging material must be adapted to the expected shelf life of fresh meat products. The consumers often associate the brick red color of fresh meat with product freshness and quality, whic is one of the major purpose of MAP packaging. The brick red color is prevalent at oxygen concentrations above about 21%. But under certain circumstances, oxygen could have a negative impact on the fresh meat, including water loss, hardness of the meat, and oxidation products of fats and proteins.However, the individual meat processor must make their own assessment of the extent to which these effects are actually perceived to be negative, as they are likely to remain almost imperceptible given the relatively short shelf life of the product.

CO2 has a bacteriostatic and fungistatic effect by reducing the pH value of the fresh meat, which greatly helps to extend the shelf life of the product. Appropriate gas mix rate combines with low storage temperatures can effectively reduce bacterial spoilage. The temperature and the change in the pH value have a significant influence on the color, texture, taste and shelf life during maturation of the meat.

However, the problem might be more complex than we can imaging, by the fact that CO2 migrates more easily out of the packaging than O2, and it’s easy to dissolve in the fresh meat, which cause the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere of the packaging to change more than the amount of O2 during the storage period. These two aspects must therefore also be taken into account when determining the gas mixture, in order to obtain a longer shelf life and to maintain the best possible level of quality. If too much percentage of CO2 is added to the atmosphere, the package may collapse under certain circumstances during the storage period due to the lower internal pressure which is cause by the CO2 migration and dissolve effection we’ve mentioned above. If insufficient amount of CO2 is added, its bacteriostatic function will be reduced and therefore the expected shelf life won’t be achieved.

Fresh meat modified atmosphere packaging machine

Basically there are almost 10 types of modified atmosphere packaging machines for fresh meat, you may choose the appropriate one according to your production capacity and budget plan. Lander manufactures and supplies several types of industrial grade MAP machine, please visit the product page to take a look.

How to choose packaging method for fresh meat

Stretch film tray wrapping of fresh meat is most cost effective and easy to operate for fast-selling fresh meat that requires shorter shelfe life, but if you want your fresh meat products to have longer shelf life and be sold to further markets, vacuum pack and MAP pack are always the options you need to choose from.

The issue of which kind of packaging is appropriate for whatever type of meat is tough to answer. Both vacuum and MAP packs help to prolong shelf life and improve the product’s appealing appearance. The shape and form of the product, on the other hand, is an essential criteria. In the chill cabinet, compact pieces of meat like fillets are vacuum packed, while portions of ground meat or goulash are preserved in MAP packs.

fresh meat in vacuum shrink package
Fresh Meat in Vacuum Shrink Pack

The vacuum pack is superior to the MAP modified atmosphere pack in terms of maintaining the product’s color or attaining optimal color stability, since the color stays consistent throughout the storage duration – provided the packing material has a sufficient oxygen barrier attribute. The required red color may be obtained via oxygen in MAP packed meat, however the color stability is highly dependent on the meat quality, the production process, and the storage circumstances.

The preservation of meat quality must be considered in combination with the product’s microbiological and sensory shelf life. A high bacteria count or significant bacteria growth poses a health risk to customers as well as a reduction in product quality. This may be determined by the scent or condition of the meat, for example. Regardless of the microbiological characteristics, the sensory shelf life of the fresh meat may be identified by a color change, which is the first and most obvious criteria for evaluating freshness for the customer.

ground beef in MAP modified atmosphere package
Fresh Meat in Vacuum Shrink Pack

The difference is a little more challenging from a microbiological viewpoint. Because vacuum packs do not allow for gas exchange, carbon dioxide is exclusively produced by microbes such as lactic acid bacteria in the meat. As previously said, CO2 is important because of its bacteriostatic and fungistatic effects, and when combined with low temperatures, it inhibits microbial growth. This, along with anaerobic bacteria’s slower metabolism, adds substantially to the product’s shelf life extension. However, an unpleasant and sour odor may be noticed when the pack is opened due to the growth of lactic acid bacteria, although this vanishes after a short time.

Carbon dioxide in MAP packs inhibits the growth of other aerobic bacteria, such as pseudomonads, thus the oxygen level has less impact from a microbiological standpoint.

As a general rule, it is suggested that each type of fresh meat’s unique features and environmental circumstances be taken into account in the calculations, as well as the product’s interaction with the packing material. The interaction between the packaging machine and the packing material does have a major impact on the package and fresh meat inside – as well as the entire packaging process’ efficiency. Yide Machinery Co., Ltd , as a renowned packaging machine manufacturer, stands behind its customers from the start. Its range of services includes everything from thorough guidance and technical assistance to pack testing and sample production, as well as cooperation with top film producers to create customized packaging materials for particular client needs.

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An overview of fresh red meat packaging
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