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Inter Fresh Concepts converts ideas into products

Packaging solutions for perishable goods

Inter Fresh Concepts is a Dutch product development and marketing company that conceives new ideas for packaging perishable goods. Working in close collaboration with the international packaging industry these ideas are translated into prototypes which are then tested and refined before being sold to the end user.

Ice is a key requirement for the fish industry despite the development of several technical alternatives of cooling. Chilling (but not freezing) fish is of vital importance to keep the product fresh and moist and to prevent the build up of bacteria that are responsible for spoilage. And ice, which is easy to produce and handle and appears today in a variety of forms, is widely used in all stages of the production process, from the time the fish is caught, to when it is displayed in the counter at a fishmonger's or supermarket, as well as during transport. The ubiquity of ice is absolute.

Using polymers instead of ice

Leon Hoogervorst and his partners, the people behind Interfresh Concepts, would beg to differ. The company markets two products InterFreeze and Gelpack which aim to replace the ice used in boxes to transport fish. InterFreeze is a composite product not much thicker than a sheet of paper. Built like a sandwich, the product features two outer layers, a printable polyethylene upper layer and a non-woven lower layer. The filling in the sandwich is a powder made from a food grade chemical polymer that is highly water absorbent. A standard sheet is 14 cm by 40 cm, but a box contains a 120 m long roll which is perforated at 14 cm intervals so that a user can choose the length that is required.

To use the product it first needs to be activated, that is, the sheets must be soaked in water for a few hours so that the polymer absorbs the water forming a gel. Once the sheet is fully hydrated it is then placed in the freezer and frozen solid. Although frozen, the sheets retain their flexibility as they are divided into cells. The frozen sheet can then be used in place of ice to cool the product. The properties of the gel cause the sheet to cool at a steady zero degrees centigrade even if frozen at far lower temperatures. And kilo for kilo the sheets offer almost twice the cooling capacity of traditional wet ice, thus in a situation where a kilo of ice is used to cool a box of fish it would be enough to use a half kilo equivalent of the sheets. For companies that freight their product by air this is of particular interest as any weight saving reduces costs.

Melt water no longer an issue

Another advantage is that as the sheet thaws the water does not run out, but remains sealed within the polymer. The fact that there is no melt water sloshing around in the bottom of the box makes the sheets also particularly useful for air shipments. Most airlines do not appreciate carrying cargo that drips with melt water, which, because of the presence of blood and bacteria in the water, also poses a hygiene risk.

Interfresh has a number of customers in the Caribbean and in the Indian Ocean who catch and ship tuna to markets in the US and Japan. For these customers the increased handling that the sheets require (in relation to ice which is available more or less on tap, the sheets have to be first hydrated and then frozen) is outweighed by the advantages of the greater cooling capacity and the absence of melt water when the cargo is shipped.

The sheets are sturdily constructed to withstand the usual wear and tear. The outer layers are virtually impossible to rupture so there is no risk of the polymer running out before or after it has been hydrated. In fact, although uncommon in practice, the sheets can actually be reused. After they are hydrated they are then sealed in a plastic bag and frozen the first time, before being added to the box with the fish. The recipient of the box can then take the (still) hydrated sheet out, remove the plastic bag and then re freeze. However, more commonly the recipient removes the sheet from the box and disposes off it in the regular garbage. Special sorting is not required.

Custom sized packs available

InterFreeze has so far sold more outside Europe than within. But another of the company's products Gelpacks has been used in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France as well as Spain. These are similar to InterFreeze with the exception that the product is already activated, that is, the powder is pre-hydrated to a gel. This makes it easier and less time consuming to handle, on the other hand, it is heavier, not as easy to transport, and more expensive. Typically available in 200 g and 400 g sizes, multiple packs are sold in cardboard boxes that are perforated to hasten the freezing process.

Consumers who purchase fresh fish in MA packaging will often note that the fish lies on an absorbent pad. The function of the pad is to absorb the liquid that is an inevitable part of the packaging process. Interfresh market such a pad called InterSorb, which like Interfreeze is a composite layered product available in a wide range of colours and sizes. The surface is suitable for printing and can carry the processor's logo or an explanation as to the function of the pad. By absorbing the fluids in the box and regulating the humidity the presence of the pad in the package contributes to product appearance and shelf life. In an automated packaging operation the pads are delivered stacked so they can be taken from a dispenser and placed in the package before the fish is placed on top without slowing down the speed of the operation.

Consumers benefit from better packaging

While seafood is the most important sector for Inter Fresh Concepts, it is also active in developing solutions for other perishable products such as fruits, vegetables, flowers and even pharmaceutical products such as blood, which has highly stringent regulations governing its packaging and transport. "We work together with packaging companies all over the world developing better ways to package perishables," says Leon Hoogervorst. "Our background in product development as well fish marketing and sales gives us a special insight into the problems that food processors face. Conversely our work with packaging providers gives us access to the latest solutions which we can then adapt to the requirements of a particular sector." It is a dialogue from which all parties benefit, including, ultimately, the consumer, as better packaging means safer and healthier products.

Interfresh Concepts
Dr. Kuyperstraat 22
2211 BE Noordwijkerhout
The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 252 340687
Fax: +31 252 340688

Activity: Product development, sales and marketing of packaging products for perishables

Markets: Europe, Caribbean, Indian Ocean

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