Impervious plastic

Food-safety precautions are among those factors boosting
artificial meat casings usage.
By Allison Bardic, Senior Editor

Beyond synthetic casings’ inherent benefits, the most recent push for plastic may be linked to fallout from the December 2003 discovery of the United States’ first-ever case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), later traced to a Canadian ranch.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) last month issued new rules to enhance safeguards against BSE, among them a ban on cow parts, including the small intestines of cattle for any food product. The interim ruling, subject to a three-month comment period, means processors must use synthetic casings or pork casings on certain sausages traditionally stuffed into non-edible natural beef casings. “The latest casing trends have changed dramatically due to the recent BSE climate in the meat industry. Despite the fact that we are no longer able to supply beef casings, those who supply the market have adjusted and are taking this opportunity to supply different products as a substitution and introduce customers to something new,” observes Christina Contreras, marketing assistant for San Antonio, TX-based DeWied International Inc. “At present, the greatest growth exists in the artificial market. The same restrictions and potential problems do not impact the selling of artificial products and, as such, this supply does not suffer the same upsets that the natural casing market has seen of late.”  
DeWied, a leading manufacturer of natural casings, as well as a full-line supplier of synthetic casings, most recently introduced Hukki™ Daisy Slice Rip Cord casings  — available in both fibrous and plastic formats — to increase the efficiency of slicing operations and simplify casing removal at the service deli.
“The unique design of the Rip Cord runs under the netting through the entire length of the casing,” explains Contreras. “To remove the net, simply cut the Rip Cord at one end, pull it away from the casing and through the netting. It cuts the netting as it is ripped away from the casing. With the net removed, the casing can be easily peeled from the finished product before slicing.”
Highest growth segment
Mike Schlesinger, director of sales for Vista International Packaging, also points to artificial casings as the casing industry’s high-growth segment.
“The most visible trend in the casing industry is the move to plastics,” he says. “Food safety, extended shelf life, and increased
profitability are the benefits to be gained.”
Vista International, whose product line includes fibrous, edible collagen, inedible collagen, plastic casings, film, and netting, recently introduced VISKO® Net, a combination of fibrous casing and netting characterized by high mechanical strength and exceptional caliber stability. Its fibrous structure allows for easy peeling.
“VISKO® Net’s high strength enables the operator to stuff casing to higher densities, exceptional caliber control allows for better slicing yields, and easy peeling saves time and increases profits,” Schlesinger adds.
Enhancing food safety
Warren Dawkins, general manager of World Pac International USA, Sturtevant, WI, further stresses that food safety and stepped-up efforts to combat food contamination are trends sweeping the casing industry.
“Some of our main products are process and ship, which eliminates steps related to direct and indirect bacterial contamination. Our casings provide improved food safety as the cooked product is not open to the environment until slicing,” he observes. “In addition, since our casings allow fewer steps in production and no additional smoke, fewer chemicals are needed to clean, keeping the entire environment more sanitary.”
In addition, Dawkins says processors are seeking products that slash time out of the processing equation. World Pac’s casings eliminate smokehouse time, as well as labor costs associated with the smoking, racking, and peeling steps, he says.
World Pac’s focus is patented, high-barrier, multi-layer casings that transfer consistent smoke, flavors, colors, and spices to meat, cheese, and seafood products. The casings may be used in all cooking conditions, from smokehouses to completely automated water cooking and/or molding operations. In addition, the company manufactures collagen replacement films in clear and color transfer, allowing processors to produce “old-fashioned” hams with a perfect, tender rind at a significantly lower cost.
Echoing Dawkins’ observations about processors’ need for speed, Michael Schmal, market development manager for M&Q Packaging Corp., Schuylkill Haven, PA, notes that “Faster cooking cycles and higher cooking yields are common trends … M&Q is dedicated to making the meat packer and food processor more cost efficient.”
A manufacturer of shrink and non-shrink plastic casings, M&Q Packaging’s most recent innovation is a high-temperature plastic casing with a very low meat adhesion. The MQ66 casing can be used to cook meats at temperatures up to 350Þ F, without the casing sticking to the meat.
“MQ66 is designed for processors who demand quick, high-temperature cook cycles combined with high stripping yields,” sums up Schmal.
Totowa, NJ-based Inovpack Vector Inc., meanwhile, manufactures and distributes tubular, high-barrier, shrink casings appropriate for most cooked sausage, processed ham, and turkey items in round, D-shape, and molded applications. The Vector™ 1 and Vector™ 6 casings are available in a wide variety of colors, tints, and cling levels, with benefits including excellent size control, balanced shrink, and patented cling.
New to the company’s lineup is Vector™ B-5, a new flat sheet film for form/fill/seal cook-in applications, with features including high-barrier, balanced shrink, and excellent strength and sealability. The new Vector™ Enhance series is a high-barrier, all-plastic, shrink, tubular casing with either smoke (SmokeKote) or color (ColorKote) coatings on the inner layer of the casing. Features include outstanding flavor, smooth dry surfaces for slicing and outstanding yields.
“Movement to more efficient processing methods [is a casing industry trend] as the number of processors continues to contract due to mergers and acquisitions. The survivors know that they have to continue to make their products more efficiently to stay competitive,” says Dave McCaffrey, vice president and general manager of Inovpack Vector. “Vector B-5 films and the Vector Enhance series both address this trend.”
Inovpack’s product lines, McCaffrey adds, also fit well with the movement from permeable to impermeable casings. He points to food-safety issues, Environmental Protection Agency issues (not having to release smoke into the atmosphere), and yield-control issues as primary reasons for this shift.

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