Illuminating a problem: most packaging isn’t light protected

Crying over spilt milk is one thing, but you’re more likely to shed a tear over the packaging when you hear that most of what we use doesn’t stop milk degrading rapidly; the same is true of olive oil or plant-based drinks. Light penetrates most packaging; in milk it can affect the taste and smell within 15 minutes, while some vitamins degrade in half an hour.

Although people know of sunlight damage, a minimum number of consumers understand the damaging effect of indoor light on taste, quality and nutrients. At the same time, 90 per cent of UK dairy farmers polled are aware of this problem. This information gap needs to be addressed.

“The issue isn’t well understood by consumers, but the industry has known for years that light damages milk and other organic liquids,” explains Divya Chopra, chief executive of Noluma International, a state-of-the-art light protection technical services and certification startup. “When the public is aware of the issue, they want to do something about it. It’s of grave concern and we need to
do something.”

Indoor lighting in supermarkets and even fridge lights degrade nutrients in milk, penetrating many types of packaging. Some nutrients, in particular vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and proteins, can decrease by 28 per cent after just 20 minutes of being exposed, according to scientific research from Cornell University in the United States.

Just because a bottle looks white and says light-protected does not mean it is; like an SPF of 10, contents can still get damaged. Trust certification

After two hours, fresh milk exposed to LED lighting, the type now common in supermarkets, begins to lose
vitamin A and after 16 hours, milk found in a conventional bottle will have half the vitamin A it started with. In fact, damage to nutrition comes from all types of light, natural as well as fluorescent tubes, and occurs before the expiry date of the product. It often means consumers aren’t getting the nutrients the product supposedly contains.

“Light damages packaged goods a lot faster than we realise. The vast majority of materials we use to contain our food does little to protect it fully. These days most packaging has been created as a low-cost solution. If consumers value fresh food and the preservation of nutrients in dairy and other drinks, as well as olive oil, things need to change,” says Dr Chopra, whose company has a new certification for light-protection in packaging.

“What’s happening now is that the technology to measure light protection is accessible. We can now benchmark packaging designs and materials with an affordable test that gives a reading within hours.”

Launched last year, Noluma is the only company to develop a patented, state-of-the-art technology that calibrates the light protection capacity of packaging in relation to content change. The company is unique in that it assigns a light protection factor (LPF), a bit like the SPF rating you see used in sun creams. This factor is not only dependent on the packaging, but the product it contains.

The test is objective, quantitative, reliable and more accurate than conducting a costly evaluation with a panel of expert taste testers and time-consuming lab analysis.

Noluma uses a photosensitive marker ingredient inside a test solution and exposes the package to intense light. The test replicates two weeks of light exposure in less than two hours. Scientists then measure the degree to which the marker is broken down. In the case of dairy, the marker is riboflavin, vitamin B2; for olive oil, chlorophyll is used.

“We calculate an LPF for companies that is dependent on the light properties of the product being sold. We can then advise them on whether their containers are suitable and guide them efficiently to a better design. People are surprised. Not all opaque material is light protected. Rays pass through a polystyrene cup for instance, while damaging ultra-violet and infra-red light can easily penetrate other materials,” says Dr Chopra.

The US-based company gives its certification to packaging that achieves an LPF high enough to block damaging light, whether it’s yoghurt, milk, cheese, olive oil, coffee, cosmetics or plant-based drinks that degrade with light.

A Noluma marque is then displayed on the container; it means that a product’s freshness, nutrition, efficacy and sensory qualities will be fully protected from light damage.

“Our certification is an assurance to both end-consumers and industry that the product is fully protected against light damage. We hope that customers will begin to value the marque over time and demand its use on packaging as a mark of trust. A lot of current packaging isn’t protecting food and drink items adequately, and the materials used are inconsistent,” says Dr Chopra.

“There is also not an abundance of light-protected packaging out there. This will change. We’re on a mission to engage consumers across the globe about this issue. We’re hoping consumer packaged goods companies worldwide will also step up, get tested and then deploy effective light-protected packaging, as well as use the certification to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.”

Light damages packaged goods a lot faster than we realise

Noluma has been working with a number of key dairy players in North America and China, and is also in talks with companies in Europe and the UK to test and develop new packaging. A US campaign with Jersey Girls Dairy in Vermont saw sales triple in a month, after the launch of its light-protected packaging, when consumers saw measurable improvements in milk quality.

As the company doesn’t sell packaging, it can objectively collaborate with consumer goods companies or their convertors to find the best way to enhance the light protection of packaging while meeting other goals, such as environmental sustainability.

“Food waste is a massive issue globally. In the UK, it’s a £20-billion a year problem, with 490 million pints of milk or eighteen and a half pints per household lost per annum,” says Dr Chopra.

“Exposure to light degrades milk’s quality and freshness before its expiration date, in some cases up to 20 times faster than if it were in light-protected and certified bottles. Noluma’s testing can definitely make a difference to our growing mountain of waste. It’s time for a change.”

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