Different Types of Food Packaging

By Garrison Pence

Manufacturers of foodstuffs rely on packaging their products for reasons that range from protection, freshness and containment to serving size, marketing considerations and compliance with government regulations. Most food manufacturers turn to outside companies to supply their packaging machines and these companies, in turn, rely on the expertise of sophisticated controls manufacturers, like Siemens, to monitor and control their packaging operations.

Bag of cereal spilling out
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Plastic bag of cereal


Young mother pouring cereal from a box into a young girl's (8-10) bowl
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Cardboard is a common food packaging material.

The most common packaging materials used by food manufacturers are plastic, aluminum and cardboard. Plastic is the material of choice for most frozen foods, fresh perishable food items, snack foods like chips and pretzels, and a variety of bakery items. Aluminum is best for beverages like juices, soft drinks and beer, and for canned perishable foods and some baked foods. Cardboard packaging is used for both frozen and fresh perishable foods and dry goods like cereals, mixes and rices.


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Cans of Coke

All three basic types of food packaging materials are customizable to display logos, photos, marketing material, and ingredient and nutrition lists along with any other information the manufacturer wishes to convey. While some food types offer flexibility in packaging materials, most packaging is determined by the nature of the food itself.


Vacuum sealed frozen cut of beef
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Frozen beef in plastic

Plastic is a versatile food-packaging material. Often in the form of custom bags, plastic is used for bread, frozen goods, snack foods and resealables like cheese. In bottle form, plastics contain drinks and flavorings, cooking oils and condiments. Plastic trays are used for fresh or frozen meats or fish. Plastic films are widely used as liners in other types of packaging.


canned food arranged in a supermarket
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Canned beans

Aluminum is common, easy to manufacture, inexpensive and environmentally friendly because it's made of recycled materials and can again be recycled. Aluminum food containers can store food safely for extended periods. It is perfect for storing canned goods, potted meats and fish, as an inner liner for bags, or even as covers for foods stored in plastic trays


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Box of cereal

Small cardboard tubs, tubes or cans are used for salt, nuts, snack foods, candies, cocoa powder, spices and some cooking fats, dairy products and frozen foods. They are light in weight, reasonably crush-proof and ecologically sound since they are manufactured from wood pulp, a renewable resource.

Other types of packaging

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Glass jars of peanut butter

Wooden barrels have long been used to package a wide range of liquid foods such as wine, cooking oils, juices and beer. Flavor compounds from the wood improve the quality of the products. Glass bottles and jars still offer advantages over other materials, though they are being increasingly displaced by plastics for packaging condiments and oils. They are still widely used for beer, juices, jams and jellies, and pickles. Paper of different types still finds use as a packaging material for sacks of flour, sugar, and some fruits and vegetables.