Advances In Packaging Deliver Fast Meals With Good Taste

Advances in microwavable and dual-ovenable packaging deliver meals fast and easy without surrendering taste or texture.

By By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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“There’s an invisible steaming valve that automatically opens up in the microwave, and that’s what allows control of the steam venting. When it reaches the right temperature and pressure, it automatically releases the appropriate amount of steam,” explains Darci Eckermann, senior vice president of Sholl Group II.

The packaging supplier designs the lamination with a customized oxygen transmission rate for each product so the produce can breathe during shipping, merchandising and home storage. Thanks to the packaging, Freshtables exhibit 14 days of shelf life, refrigerated.

Entrées for everyone

In the freezer case, both single-serving and family-size entreés are reaping the rewards of microwavable and dual-ovenable package innovation.

For single-serving frozen entrées, Con-Agra Foods Inc., Omaha, Neb., uses its unique microwave Steam Cooker package for Healthy Choice Café Steamers. Once again, steam cooking protects the quality of the cooked product, preserving flavor, color and texture.

The one-dish Café Steamers meals are packaged with vegetables, meat or seafood and pasta or rice in a steamer basket that nests in a plastic bowl. The bowl holds each recipe’s signature sauce.

As the sauce heats and ultimately boils, steam rises and cooks the items in the steamer basket. When the microwave cooking cycle is complete, the consumer simply removes the package’s plastic cover and mixes the food from the basket with the sauce in the bowl.


Note to marketing
A coupon attached to the film lidding on a frozen food tray stands a better bet of catching the consumer’s eye than a coupon printed on the carton. But what if the consumer forgets
to detach the coupon from the lidding before putting the product in the microwave or
conventional oven?
Not a thing, if the processor uses a heat-resistant film created specifically for such applications. WS Packaging Group Inc. (, Green Bay, Wis., developed
such a film-paper-film construction, which is rated heat-safe to 500º F. The oven-safe film protects against fire even if a consumer cranks up the oven’s temperature in hopes the food will cook quicker – or selects the proper temperature but forgets to take the food out when cooking is complete.

In a category noted for convenience, the Café Steamers package takes that a step further. There’s no need to peel back plastic lidding, puncture an overwrap, stir the product midway through cooking or dirty a dish.

Multi-serving frozen entreés require other types of packaging to overcome the hurdles of microwave cooking. Wal-Mart Great Value Lasagna, which is a family-size product, uses a specially designed evenheating tray to assure uniform cooking.

The primary package for Wal-Mart’s 40-oz. lasagna is the pressed paperboard Micro-Rite tray from Graphic Packaging International Inc., Marietta, Ga. The Wal-Mart lasagna is the fi rst product to launch nationally in the MicroRite tray within the U.S.

As the product cooks, the tray uses shielding technology to refl ect microwave energy away from the edges of the product, preventing undesirable crisping or browning at the periphery. In addition, the tray features differential-heating technology: A foil pattern is laminated to the interior bottom of the tray, creating “antennae” that direct microwave energy to the center of the product. A thin layer of polyester on the tray acts as a barrier between the product and the paperboard substrate.

In addition to eliminating overcooked edges and cold spots in the middle of the dish, the even-heating tray reduces cook time and simplifies microwave preparation. The lasagna cooks for 10 minutes with the lid on plus three minutes uncovered, all at full power. The product then rests for two minutes and is ready to eat.


Heat-resistant film allows placement of a promotional coupon right on the film lidding of a frozen food tray – safe even if the consumer forgets to remove the coupon before cooking.

In contrast, with a conventional microwavable tray, the product would require 30 minutes of cooking time and the heating directions would be more complicated. The even-heating tray’s shorter cooking time translates not only into time savings but also into energy savings: 50 percent less energy is required to cook the product in the new tray vs. the old one.

Wal-Mart previously packaged Great Value Lasagna in a conventional microwavable tray. No product reformulation was required to switch to the even-heating tray, and the new tray runs at the same line speed as the previous one. The size of the secondary package, a paperboard carton, also remains unchanged.

Processors have a new lidding option available as they strive to protect the flavor profiles of microwavable and dualovenable products. It is the LumiLid line of solvent-free polyester lidding fi lms from Toray Plastics (America) Inc. (www. torayfi, North Kingstown, R.I.

These FDA-compliant, heat-sealable lidding fi lms, suitable for frozen and refrigerated food applications, are manufactured using a proprietary extrusion coating technology that does not require organic solvents. Thus the films expose the food in the package to no odorous solvents, safeguarding taste and aroma.

As a further benefit, “The LumiLid XL5 lidding film is actually lower in cost compared with other films, because we do not have to manage solvent coating processing issues like high solvent costs, measurement of retained solvents, incineration and waste management,” says Mike Theriault, business manager at Toray.

To make sure even the youngest family members have the option of eating tasty microwavable entrées, Gerber Products Co., Florham Park, N.J., launched Graduates for Toddlers Lil’ Entrées nationwide.

These microwavable mini-entrées are retorted and filled into trays sealed with an easy-peel film. Taste-tested by toddlers, the meals contain no artificial flavors or added preservatives.

The Lil’ Entrées primary package, molded with two compartments to accommodate multi-component products like turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy, is shelf-stable and reportedly offers 18-month shelf life.

The Gerber entrées cook in 30 seconds in the microwave but are also safe to eat at ambient temperature. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that.

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