Not a Wasted Effort for Milk

By Joan Mantini

Div Chopra, Ph.D, president and CEO of Noluma has almost 20 years of experience in packaging and industrial polymers leading the teams that develop and leverage innovative light-protection technology for the consumer-packaged goods sector. Chopra spent the last five years focusing specifically on research related to light-protective packaging to understand firsthand the impact light can have on the flavor (and nutritional qualities) of dairy. Chopra took some time out to answer a few questions specific to milk packaging solutions for preventing waste.

How much waste is being created globally when it comes to dairy products and what role does packaging play in this number?

Chopra: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 1.3 billion of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted. And according to the USDA, more than 48 billion pounds of milk was sold in the U.S. in 2017 with more than 99 million lbs of milk wasted that same year. That’s about 12 million gallons of milk.

Many people don’t know this, but lights of all kinds – including LEDs, fluorescents and grocery store retail lights, can damage the freshness, flavor, vitamin contents and overall quality of milk. But there is one way to prevent this: light-protected packaging.

How can packaging play a part in this waste being prevented or reduced?

Chopra: Technological innovation is a major driver in developing new packaging solutions that have the power to prevent spoilage, therefore minimizing food waste.

We’ve all tossed milk before it reaches the expiration date, for a variety of reasons. But with light-protected packaging, milk can stay fresh for longer, often even beyond the product’s listed expiration date. If we stop wasting milk, we minimize food and packaging waste at the same time, while also providing a more delicious product packed with the nutrients and vitamins promised on the label.

What can new research teach us about the extent of food and dairy degradation (flavor, freshness and nutrients) as a result of inadequate packaging?

Chopra: A recent report published by Newcastle University confirms that indoor light has the potential to cause immense damage to the taste and nutrition of dairy products. The report, titled Milk: Light exposure and depletion of key nutrients, found that:

  • Lighting, including lights found in supermarket dairy cabinets, reduces essential nutrients found in milk, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and Vitamin D. These nutrients are important components of a healthy diet, helping to prevent disease and support growth.
  • After 16 hours of dairy-case light exposure, less than half of the vitamin A (49 percent) remains in nonfat milk in a typical plastic bottle.
  • The report also shows that riboflavin can decrease by 28 percent after just 20 minutes of indoor light exposure.

But all this damage can be prevented with adequate packaging designed using Noluma’s patented technology. Laboratory testing on milk, also revealed in the report from Newcastle University, found that the light-protected milk retained almost all Vitamin B2 and lost only 16 percent of Vitamin A, while non-light-protected milk lost all Vitamin B2 and 93 percent of Vitamin A.

What is Noluma doing to help improve packaging, extend shelf life/nutrient retention and overall quality to reduce food waste and increase consumer loyalty?

Chopra: Noluma measures and assesses packaging’s light-protection capabilities based on the content change of what’s inside. Using patented technology, we test for the light-sensitive ingredient in a variety of products that change negatively when exposed to all forms of light, including LED home lights, refrigerator lights and retail fluorescent lights.

For example, we use riboflavin (vitamin B2) as a marker for measuring light exposure’s impact on dairy products, because it acts as a catalyst for decreases in other vitamins. The technology we use replicates two weeks of light exposure and evaluates the change in contents in just two hours. As the marker decreases, we know that the qualities of the product—freshness, level of nutrition and such—also diminish. We then pinpoint the optimal point of total light-block at which content change ceases to exist and work with our partners to design packaging options to achieve this standard of protection.

Almost any product can be negatively impacted by light, meaning that all packaging can be improved to enhance its protective qualities using insights gathered through our testing and measurement process. We can measure, assess and guide the packaging design for all types of packaged goods—regardless of material, shape or contents. Then, we certifies the end packaging with the Noluma™ logo, to assure consumers it meets our gold standard for adequate light protection.

Different types of packaging and different kinds of products can have varying levels of light protection, and while we can test and advise on any type of packaging and any type of product, we only certify packaging that meets our performance standards.

How big of a role does packaging technology play in adding value to revive the declining milk industry?

Chopra: Global consumption of cow’s milk has been steadily declining for years, with more competition from alternative products like plant-based beverages. But alternatives don’t offer the rich, creamy taste of dairy milk. If we can better protect the nutrients in milk, while preserving the flavor so that it tastes the same as it did on the farm.