How package design can help you prevent food spoilage

Leverage design and optimized supply chain

Image of vacuum sealed food pouches

Food spoilage has massive costs both economically and environmentally. By some estimates, nearly a third of all food is lost due to spoilage at some point in the supply chain. So, it’s critical for food producers to seek ways to extend shelf life and preserve freshness.

Food packaging design is one way to prevent spoilage, but there are other practices to consider as you look to reduce the waste that comes from food spoilage.

One of the difficulties is that there are many ways that spoilage can happen.

  • Exposure to air or light can alter foods, especially dairy and meat.
  • Enzymes that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables will cause spoilage to produce if transportation takes too long.
  • Pests, either by getting past packaging or not being removed prior to packaging, can damage food or introduce microorganisms that damage food.
  • Damage due to inadequate packaging or poor handling can create weaknesses and vulnerabilities to many causes of spoilage. Once microorganisms—bacteria, mold, yeasts—get past packaging barriers, they can spoil food quickly.

And for all of these, time and temperature can have a massive impact. The longer food is exposed to microorganisms, air, enzymes, pests, or light, the greater the chance of spoilage. And higher temperatures often accelerate these processes.

In other words, ensuring proper cold chain transport means managing a lot of different factors. Similarly, the cold chain comprises several stages. So let’s dive into the many places and many ways that food spoilage can occur—and how you can help prevent it.


While some of these factors may not seem directly related to food packaging, they’re important to consider not only when designing packaging to avoid food spoilage, but also when orchestrating logistics around your cold chain.

  • Rising temperatures

This one is obviously tied directly to the factor above: heat plus food leads to faster spoilage. One way to prevent it is quality control of trucking practices, but there are also ways to design packaging to be more robust and insulated against high temperatures—especially if food packages are delivered to a home, where it may sit on the porch for hours. 

  • Delayed shipments

Again, this is directly tied to one of the main causes of spoilage. Unlike how insulated packaging can ward off high temperatures, delays mean that enzymes, pests, or exposure just have time to do what they do. Optimizing supply chain logistics so food products don’t have to wait too long in storage, in processing, in staging, in transit, or in shelving is the only way to prevent spoilage due to delays.

  • Overripe foods

Similar to delays, this is something that packaging can’t really solve. And, similar to delays, it’s going to take a supply chain solution to prevent—probably by finding suppliers that have their own effective methods of ensuring that produce, dairy, meat, or other perishable products are delivered efficiently and swiftly. 



  • Damage

Things fall over. People drop boxes. There’s no quicker way to spoil food than simply breaking its packaging. While the long haul of getting products from your factories to retail stores is one consideration to make, it’s also crucial to design packaging that’s resilient against human handling. Even if your food makes it through the cold chain, there’s still danger when it’s in warm hands. Testing packaging for impact, crush, and vibration is crucial for minimizing damage.

  • Environment

Again, temperature and lighting can catalyze food spoilage. It’s also important to consider that not all of your products are going to be in the same environment. One retailer may shelve your product in a 36º F (2º C) refrigerator. Another’s might be at 40º F (4º C). Not to mention different geographical environments and variations in weather.  Planning packaging for the least ideal scenario is one way to prevent in-store spoilage.



  • Overbuying

You know the adage of your eyes being bigger than your stomach, or never going to the grocery when hungry. The long and short of it is that just because your product is purchased doesn’t mean that it’s going to be consumed that day. Designing packaging to extend life on the shelf and in the kitchen can ensure that it lasts until it’s enjoyed.

  • Leftovers

As many consumers like buying in bulk in order to reduce packaging, this often means they have more ingredients than they need for a single meal. If leftovers sit around in their refrigerator, it’s only a matter of time before it all goes bad. So, it can be beneficial to offer single-serving options in order to prevent that at-home spoilage. It may mean a little more packaging, but overall waste is decreased. In addition to being twice as likely to reduce waste, customers in a Harris Poll on Consumer Food Wasted showed a preference for single-serving packages. Also, innovations in lidding films that allow for resealable packaging can help keep foods fresher for longer.


From a packaging design perspective, one approach can have a beneficial effect throughout your supply chain: Modified Atmosphere Packaging. This technique uses particular types of gases and pressures to slow down enzymes, air exposure, and possibly even microorganisms. It can extend shelf-life of produce and meat from days to weeks, or cheese from weeks to months.

All in all, your efforts to avoid food spoilage can be addressed by starting with structural design, engineering, and testing—which ultimately comes down to partnering with experts to help get the details just right. If you want to learn more about how you can help reduce the impact of food spoilage, contact Veritiv’s food packaging experts today!