Packaging Systems for Meat — Wholesale and Retail


(1) To discuss the implications of boxed beef on where beef is now slaughtered.

(2) To identify common trademarks, materials, processes and equipment used to package meat.

(3) To describe advantages and disadvantages of various packaging systems.

Reading material: Principles of Meat Science (3rd Edition), chapter 9, page 220 to 221, chapter 10, pages 253 to 260.

Boxed beef

A concept that allows the centralized fabrication of carcasses into major primals and/or subprimals followed by vacuum packaging and boxing in 7-9 boxes per carcass.

Boxed beef began in the 1960’s and has caused a major revolution in where beef is now slaughtered (from Chicago, New York, Kansas City, etc., to Amarillo, Plainview, Friona, etc.)

Pioneers in boxed beef — Tyson Fresh Meats, JBS Swift, Cargill Meat Solutions. By their dominance in boxed beef, this has allowed these three companies to control around 75% of the fed beef slaughter and 85% of the boxed beef production in the United States.

90% of all beef produced today is boxed.

Leaders in vacuum packaging technology

Cryovac® — Sealed Air Corporation.


American National Can®


1960’s Tipper-Tie® nozzle-type machine

Problem: Too much operator error and insufficient automation.

1970’s Cryovac® 8200 Double-chamber vacuumizing and clip closure

Problem: Too slow for most high-speed fabrication plants.

1980’s Cryovac® 8300 (8316, 8318, 8324) Multichamber heat-sealing equipment (20 pieces per minute)

Problem: Still needed more speed.

1990’s Cryovac® 8600 Multichamber heat-sealing equipment (30 pieces per minute).


Non-heat-shrink versus heat-shrink

Laminated versus coextruded

Cryovac® B620 bag is most common.

Laminated bag consisting of the following layers:

Ethyl Vinyl Acetate — Outside of bag, protects Saran® layer

Saran® — Inner layer, provides oxygen barrier

Irradiated Ethyl Vinyl Acetate — Heat sealing properties, protects Saran®

Cryovac® TBG Bag — stands for “taped bone guard.” Has bone guard material built-in to bag. Used for bone-in subprimals.


Most bags are heat-shrinked to:

(1) Help bag conform to the surface of meat to reduce flex cracks.

(2) Helps eliminate pockets where purge can accumulate.

(3) Thickens the bag to add to puncture resistance.

(4) Improves oxygen barrier properties.

Use 400 F air or 200 F water (most common is water).

Other Packaging Systems


Presliced steaks are reassembled and vacuum packaged. Shipped to store for repackaging in usual manner. Great care must be used to ensure adequate shelf-life.


Sliced steaks are individually packaged — either vacuum or modified atmosphere –and shipped directly to the retailer for display in the case. Hormel and Bryan Foods are playing major roles in the pork area. Problem still exists regarding the color of reduced myoglobin — beef is most affected while pork is least affected — and on the mark-up for prepackaged products.

Modified Atmosphere Packaging

Uses either 80% O2 + 20% CO2 or 80% N2 + 20% CO2 to preserve meat. High oxygen content allows for maintenance of bright red color (oxymyoglobin) while carbon dioxide retards bacterial growth. The high nitrogen system is primarily used for pork loins while the high oxygen system is used primarily in Europe. Problems exist in large packages necessary to hold sufficient head space for gases and whether or not good package has been achieved.

Review of Material — What the student should know:

(1) Terminology associated with packaging.

(2) Leaders in packaging equipment and technology.

(3) Who is marketing different types of prepackaged products.

(4) The different types of vacuum or modified atmosphere packaging systems.

Links to related sites on the Internet

Cryovac — Sealed Air Corporation

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