Case Study

Coffee Packaging Quality Control Solutions

Maintaining shelf life for packaged coffee is a continuous challenge. The flavors and oils in coffee are oxygen sensitive, and the flavor profile is the primary value being delivered to the consumer. Oxidation, flavor degradation, and spoilage are all results of compromised package integrity. Leaks as small as 10 microns can draw O2 into the package over its shelf life. Coffee comes in a variety of package formats, but all coffee has one need in common, package integrity assurance for extended shelf life.

The coffee market is extremely competitive, with the flavor profile being the key differentiator for consumers. Whether the product is instant coffee, a brew capsule or ground coffee, the importance of package integrity is similar. Taking shortcuts in quality can cut deep into brand equity and profit. If a consumer encounters a product that exhibits oxidation, the bitterness and stale flavor will likely affect the consumer’s decision to repurchase.

Fresh grounds will typically be packaged with a one-way valve for CO2 outgassing. While fresh grounds will create an internal positive pressure from coffee outgassing, this generally only occurs in the initial six days following coffee grind. Following the outgassing period, a vented package will be at a pressure equilibrium and the presence of a leak will begin to introduce O2 into the package.

Popular package formats for coffee include stick packs, pouches, plastic containers and composite cans. The form-fill-seal packaging process increases the complexity of producing quality packaging, introducing an added risk of systemic defects. Each package type has different considerations and challenges.

  • Stick packs have three seals and a small volume. The overlap of the seals increases potential for channel leaks and the lower volume makes a 10 micron leak have a greater relative impact on the product.
  • Pouches may have a fin-seal, lap-seal or gussets. Each pouch juncture is another opportunity for a channel leak through the seal or an impact crack in the barrier material.
  • Composite and plastic containers have either a crimp or heat seal as the final applied seal. The rigidity of a container does not allow for flexing under temperature and pressure variations. In the presence of a leak as temperature or pressure fluctuates, the can will not compensate but will allow O2 to be driven through any leaks.
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