The France-based division of Cryovac has supplied a ready meals packaging solution that is said to have enhanced increased shelf-life, improved logistics and reduced costs for a public food service operation in Norway.
The target for the project was the municipal kitchens owned and managed by the commune of Kristiansand, in the southern part of Norway. The kitchen prepares, chills and packs healthy ready meals for elderly citizens. The meals are either delivered at the individuals' homes or at cafeterias. The objective of the Kristiansand municipality is to reduce the social costs of hospitals and nursing homes by providing the elderly with healthy meals in their preferred environment and improving their quality of life by allowing them to continue to live at home.
Users of this service can choose from a combination of menus to suit individual needs. For example, about 25 per cent of the meals have to be specially processed - i.e. mashed or ground, without gluten, etc. Originally, these meals were delivered hot, in plastic containers which generated many leaks. Unless consumed immediately, the meals quickly became cold and unappetising.
Hermod Henriksen, consultant for the agency Komplet Mat, developed the concept of a central kitchen supplying ready meals to the elderly in the early 1990's. He worked on this in the northern part of Norway, where meals were mostly delivered frozen, which was inconvenient. Henriksen was well aware that the meals would only be consumed if they were sufficiently appetising and packed in a user-friendly manner, and he was determined to improve the organoleptic quality.
In 1991, Henriksen began working with food packaging specialist Cryovac and the packaging equipment manufacturer Multivac. After extensive testing and cooperation between the three partners, Cryovac packaging materials running on a Multivac CD6000 machine were found to offer the best solution. In Kristiansand, the new packaging was introduced in 2001, after the municipality completely reorganised its food services organisation into one centralised kitchen.
The Cryovac Darfresh Flex Tray Flex (FTF) vacuum skin packaging (VSP) system was chosen for its long shelf life and superior security and seal integrity. The Darfresh TC201 top film is used in combination with the FDE31 bottom film to produce either one portion packs or pouches for up to 8 individual meals.
Packed in the Cryovac materials on the CD6000, the ready meals are safe and well preserved thanks to the high oxygen barrier. The secure seals have eliminated leaks. Shelf life is guaranteed for longer than required as the meals are distributed on a weekly basis.
As an added benefit, logistics are said to have been really improved, with easier planning and distribution. As a result, menus can be tailored and planned four weeks ahead.
Cryovac claims that another important benefit of the Darfresh packaging is the fact that food quality and freshness are fully preserved. "When applied to ready meals for an elderly population, food quality is of crucial importance", explains Henricksen. "Studies have shown that the elderly are often lacking appetite. Packed in Darfresh, our meals are perfectly fresh and they can be easily heated at any time and reheated later with no loss of quality. The packs are easy to open and we have even trained our elderly and handicapped users to use the new package easily".
The Darfresh packaging concept also allows the staff to work normal hours only, respecting week-ends and holiday rest. Thanks to long shelf life, menus can be planned long in advance, which means waste has been reduced to a minimum. For these reasons, the price for this service dropped from approximately €14.6 to €8 per person per day.
Launched in 2001, the project has been running for just over one year. The next years will be devoted to fine-tuning and logistics, with the aim to possibly sell the concept to other municipalities in Norway.
When compared with 140 other Norwegian public food services, Kristiansand turned proved to be very efficient. By introducing a second shift in their central kitchen and using the excess capacity of the CD6000, Kristiansand says it could also envisage supplying neighbouring towns and turn its food service organisation into a profitable business.
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