The most well-known qualities of EPS boxes are definitely protection and hygiene. However, its outstanding isothermal qualities help it gain market share in regions where logistics chain restrictions make it a necessity. In 1999, 45% of EPS packaging used in the United States was used to keep packed goods at the proper temperature. The firmly modern and dynamic EPS easily handles the limits of all the varied sectors in significant markets, such as meat and fish products and many specialized industries.
Seafood items – 7,000 tonnes of EPS for fish containers – remain a significant food industry sector. EPS reigns supreme thanks to three essential functions that it performs simultaneously: insulating, sanitary, and anti-shock protection. Three considerable advantages have made it the primary material for meat and poultry packing, consuming more than 5,000 tonnes of EPS each year. Different colors for added value positioning, crush resistance, thermal and gas insulation to extend meat’s shelf life, aeration systems to prevent exudation or absorbent bases from retaining moisture are all examples of how EPS has evolved in response to the segment’s needs.
EPS has also become synonymous with added value in other industries, notably susceptible to temperature variations. There are numerous examples: from the presentation of seafood on a fresh EPS platter or even preservation in modified atmosphere EPS boxes to the packaging of luxury ice-creams, keeping very delicate fruit at the required temperature, or even protecting aromatic herbs in EPS boxes, expanded polystyrene provides a simple and ingenious solution thanks to the combination of its two intrinsic properties.
While transportation is still a major stumbling point in the cold chain, EPS packaging has proven to be an effective barrier to micro-ruptures. These unavoidably occur as refrigerated lorries open and repeatedly close during home deliveries, a growing service in popularity as e-commerce grows. Other causes of micro-ruptures in the cold chain include loading and unloading from one storage location to another or even transportation in a non-refrigerated vehicle as a result of catering professionals’ “Cash and Carry” purchases. Insulating containers, such as EPS boxes or mixed solutions mixing EPS and refrigerating compounds (carbonic ice or eutectic plates), which match the standards of “e-commerce,” can be used to handle these micro-ruptures. While many marketed food products are extremely sensitive, geographical distances between products and consumers increase, justifying the increasing severity of restrictions. EPS reacts by consolidating its presence in locations where hygiene and low temperatures are required.
The EPS serves as a thermal and water “buffer,” compensating for the loss of frigories during consignment and ensuring a consistent temperature right up to the point of sale.
When the contents are changeable and there is no guarantee of stability at average temperature, highly insulating packaging is required. Any temperature rise would have a negative impact on their quality. As a result, they must be stored at temperatures below room temperature throughout the supply chain, from supplier to customer. This includes fresh meat and seafood, as well as ice creams. The contents must be protected from thermal shock during travel and storage (in other words, they must be protected against sudden temperature fluctuations that may occur in their surroundings). Some pharmaceuticals, fresh fruits and vegetables, some types of wine, some seafood, and live crabs are all affected. The goods must be kept at temperatures above room temperature throughout the logistics chain from producer to consumer. This applies to some hot-delivery ready-to-eat meals where the temperature must not go below 63°C.
Only a low thermal conductivity packing material can meet the stringent standards imposed by regulations and quality and safety criteria, with which the food sector must comply in terms of product temperature stability.
Compared to traditional packaging materials, EPS has a very high insulating property, confirming that it is perfect for making packaging that requires thermal insulation. The insulating feature of EPS is thus employed to keep a product at a constant temperature below or above that of its surroundings for as long as is required or to protect it from rapid temperature changes and postpone the balancing out of room and contents temperatures.
Cooling elements are frequently incorporated into EPS packaging to extend the period of thermal insulation. Melting ice is commonly used in the fish products industry. In this instance, the thermal gradient between the content of the packaging and its surroundings remains constant as long as the ice has not completely melted (in other words, the product temperature is maintained until the ice has completely melted).
In effect, food that must be kept at a temperature between 0 and 4°C during transportation must not be exposed to temperatures below 0°C, as this would cause it to freeze. An EPS box is the ideal option. Even though the EPS box’s insulation will last up to 72 hours, the box is filled with carbon dioxide snow to keep the compartments at a steady temperature for 48 hours – the maximum time limit for standard courier service. The combination of qualities of the box – hygiene, protection, and insulation – makes it perfect for ultra-fresh food (meat, packaged fish, and poultry).
The insulating features of EPS boxes help to produce ideal thermal conditions, which helps avoid bacterial degradation and contamination from the outside. These boxes create a perfect storage environment for fruits, milk products, and vegetables, allowing them to last longer.