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3 Questions to Find the Right Meat Packaging & Reduce Food Waste

Packaging meat can be tricky, different cuts and storage times require the right packaging to prevent spills and extend shelf life. Large cuts with inadequate packaging can puncture materials causing spills and accelerating spoilage rates. Longer freezer storage with insufficient packaging can quickly become freezer burnt and degrade food quality.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately one-third of the food produced worldwide goes to waste. The total amount of waste is estimated at almost one trillion dollars annually. It is estimated that 20% of meat produced globally goes to waste. Seafood is even higher at 35% waste.

Meat Waste Screenshot

Proper packaging methods will preserve food and reduce waste.

Below are three questions to ask when searching for the right meat packaging.

*Which cuts of meat will be wrapped?

*How long will the meat be stored?

*How many packages do you anticipate wrapping daily?

Which cuts of meat will be wrapped?

The cut and type of meat being packaged are important in determining the right materials to use. Larger primal cuts require a thick film to prevent tears from bones. Smaller cuts and deli meats may not need thick materials for packaging due to shorter storage times.

Whole chickens use different packaging materials and processes from whole fish. Having a list of meat cuts being packaged is important when selecting the right form of meat packaging.

Meat Cut Varieties

How long will the meat be stored?

Storage times are crucial for determining the right packaging material and process. Shorter storage times from market to home require lighter packaging materials versus heavier materials needed for longer storage times.

Heavier packaging materials help to prevent freezer burn during long term freezer storage. Some packages need MOD (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) to further extend storage life. Modified Atmosphere Packaging changes the atmosphere surrounding the meat. By reducing oxygen levels or integrating other gases, storage life can improve. Knowing the type of meat being wrapped and estimated storage times will determine the right atmospheric mixture for each type of meat if needed. 

How many packages do you anticipate wrapping daily?

There's no sense in buying a machine and materials that can not keep up with production levels. Forecast to be sure the process will keep up with demand. A manual machine can take much longer than fully automated packaging machines. Manual machines also cost much less than full auto machines. Knowing the number of daily wrapped packages will help show the cost of the right process and machines.

If wrapping under 1000 packages daily, a manual or semi-auto machine should suffice. Over 1000 packages per daily should justify looking at higher speed machines. The initial cost may be more, but labor savings and efficiency over time will pay for the machine and then some.

What to do when all of the questions are answered?

Due to the number of meat varieties and cuts there are, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Knowing the answer to the questions above will help find the right process. Ask a professional or do research on some of the suggestions below.

Cuts of Meat and Packaging Methods to Consider

Meat Packaging

Large Primal Cuts – Require thick packaging in excess of 5 mils. Common packaging methods are thick polyolefin meat bags, thermoform, and vacuum thermoform.

Smaller Pork and Beef Cuts – For smaller cuts, thermoform and vacuum thermoform are used, with vacuum packaging and MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging). Overwrapping is another common packaging for smaller cuts or simple butcher paper and a label if coming from the store meat case.

Shrimp & Fish – Both use overwrapping when fresh and barrier bags, thermoform, and vacuum packaging for longer storage.

Poultry – Whole chickens and turkey are shrunk in using steam or water with poultry shrink bags. Smaller cuts often use sealed food grad shrink film or thermoform packaging. A lower-cost alternative for short term storage can be overwrapping. 

Whole Loins – Large whole loins often use thick shrink bags and smaller pre-seasoned loins are packaged using thermoforming.

Processed Meats – Processed meats like summer sausage and salami often use thermoforming and sometimes vacuum packaging. Ground sausage and beef use opaque food-grade poly bags that are long and narrow looking like a tube.

Bacon – Yummy bacon uses thermoform, vacuum packaging, and flow wrapping. If buying from the store meat case, overwrapping is used for transport from the store to home.


Each one of the meat cuts listed above has multiple ways they are packaged. Answering the questions for your application will help to find which one will reduce food waste, increase profit, and keep up with production.

If you have any questions about a specific meat packaging application, feel free to call us at 1-800-441-5090 or leave a comment.


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