3 Quality Control Tests for Coffee Packaging That You Can’t Afford to Skip

December 5, 2022 | By The Fres-co Team

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In the specialty coffee market, product packaging plays a major role in influencing brand impression, encouraging consumer trial, and communicating differentiation. However, its most important job is to also provide protection for the coffee itself. This includes maintaining the coffee’s freshness and flavor profile throughout the supply chain and preventing damage during shipping.

In order to achieve this, coffee bags must be designed with strong barrier properties and be routinely tested to prove their effectiveness. In this article, we share three quality control tests for coffee packaging that you or your packaging supplier should be performing regularly to ensure your coffee is reaching the customer at peak freshness.

Why is Quality Control Testing for Coffee Packaging Important?

For coffee, it is especially vital that the beans stay fresh. Flexible packaging, like our CORNERSEAL®, BLOCKBAG™, back fin seal, and stand-up pouch, provide an airtight seal that protects coffee from oxygen and other elements like light, temperature, moisture, and aroma transfer. This helps increase the shelf life of the coffee and minimize product spoilage.

However, as with any barrier that protects against oxygen or other external influences, coffee bags and pouches must be routinely quality tested to ensure it is performing these essential functions. A poor seal or an inferior valve can quickly cause coffee degradation, resulting in a bad smell, taste, and overall customer experience.

Depending on where you are in your journey as a roaster, who performs the quality control testing for packaging can vary:

  • Roasters using pre-made bags: Roasters who package coffee manually using pre-made bags, pouches, and valves must rely on the manufacturer to perform quality assurance checks. Roughly 90% of the seals are made from the bag manufacturer—because of this, it is essential that you find a quality supplier who regularly performs quality control testing on the pre-made bags and that supplies a high-quality valve.
  • Roasters using automated machinery to form, fill, and seal bags in house: Roasters using their own automated machines are in complete control of managing critical variables such as heat, pressure, and dwell time that are crucial for proper bag formation. With all of these factors at play, it is important that your in-house team quality tests the bags on a routine basis and make adjustments to these variables, as needed. The Fres-co team is experienced in performing these tests and can help pinpoint issues and provide recommendations to customers.

What is Specifically Being Tested?

During a quality control test, the following components should be evaluated to ensure that they are functioning properly:

  • Valves: Our signature one-way degassing valve allows carbon dioxide to escape from the bag while keeping oxygen and moisture out. Because the quality of the valve can directly impact the flavor profile of your coffee, it is important to look for rigid valves made to the highest quality standards. Fres-co’s one-way degassing valve sets the industry standard and is produced in the U.S.
  • Materials: Packaging material is another crucial element. The material you select should have the right ply adhesion to prevent delamination, have a strong barrier for the correct shelf life, and have a high-quality printing process, such as reverse printing, that prevents potential fading and scuffing. Your packaging supplier can advise you on the best materials that will work optimally on your machinery and hold up well during product distribution and on the store shelves.
  • Seals: The seals of coffee bags can ultimately make or break the success of the packaging. Sealing not only ensures product safety and quality—but it also has the potential to improve presentation and usability, resulting in a more appealing brand. For coffee bags, the polyethylene used in heat sealing must be designed correctly in order for it to run properly within the specific machine’s tolerances. Finding a quality supplier who can help you tailor your packaging machinery can make all the difference

3 Methods for Quality Control Testing Your Coffee Bags

From packaging leaks to faulty valves, there are many factors that can impact the condition of your coffee bag and the product inside. The following tests can help you identify and solve quality issues before they become a larger challenge:

1. Leak Detection

A roaster can check packaging for leakage in a variety of ways. No matter which method is used, all involve testing the seal integrity and ensuring that it is strong and will stay intact even during transit.

  • Submerged Vacuum Test / Mead Test: This test is conducted by packaging an inert material, such as degassed coffee, taping the valve, and placing it in an enclosed water chamber with a vacuum device. This vacuum creates a pressurized environment to detect if a leak is present.
  • Submerged Leak Test: During the submerged leak test, tape is first applied to the valve. Then, the sealed package is submerged in water to detect for punctures and micro-leaks in the bag. If leaks are present, they will produce bubbles in the water from the defective area.

2. Headspace Analysis

For roasters, the packaging process is not just the final step, but an extremely important one. Certain gases, like naturally emitted carbon dioxide, can actually enhance the flavor of the coffee, while oxygen can quickly cause it to degrade. For these reasons, it is important to quality control test the headspace area of the bags in order to understand exactly which gases are produced.

During this test, the headspace of the packaging is punctured with a needle and a headspace analyzer instrument is used to provide a thorough analysis of the quantitative gas concentrations. For coffee, less than 2% residual oxygen is ideal, with some levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, to ensure your coffee tastes fresh and has a long shelf life.

3. Ship Test

According to Packaging Digest, as much as 11% of unit loads arriving at a distribution center have some level of case damage. But while it is common, damaged packaging is a costly challenge both financially and logistically that is better prevented. In order to optimize shipping operations and to ensure your packaging is durable, a ship test can be performed.

In its simplest form, this test involves shipping cartons of coffee bags from Point A to Point B and then evaluating them for leaks and punctures, as well as other common issues. This simulation can help you determine which possible material changes to make to ensure your product is delivered to the warehouse or directly to the customer in pristine condition.

Our Packaging Experts Support You Along the Way

Quality control testing, while sometimes overlooked, is one of the most crucial elements of the greater packaging process. 

As a flexible packaging innovator, we understand the importance of quality control testing and offer advanced testing methodologies to help you pinpoint issues and find solutions. The tests discussed here are standard for in-plant QA testing, but our Fres-co team can also provide more detailed analytical testing in our state-of-the-art lab. We also offer our customers ongoing education and training sessions to help you ensure your packaging machinery is producing packaging of the highest quality. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to quality control test your coffee bags, or would like to learn more about our products, machines, and services, we’re here to help. Contact us to learn more. 

 

For more than 40 years, Fres-co System USA, Inc. has manufactured high-performance flexible packaging systems and invented dozens of innovative breakthroughs including degassing valves, modified atmosphere technologies, and reclosure systems.

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