The Surprising Reason Why Your Crisps Are Filled with Nitrogen

If you’ve ever wondered why your Walkers crisps are filled with nitrogen, you’re not alone! Many of us have looked into the bag of crisps and wondered why nitrogen is used instead of air. But what’s the purpose of this surprising choice? In this blog post, we’ll dive into the science behind why nitrogen is used in crisps and explore the reasons why this gas is a crucial ingredient in our favourite snack.Walkers Crisps

The Science Behind Nitrogen-Filled Crisp Packets

When it comes to potato chips or crisps, we all love that fresh, crispy texture and the irresistible flavour. However, have you ever wondered why those crisp packets are filled with nitrogen?
To understand the science behind nitrogen-filled crisp packets, we first need to understand the role of air in food packaging. Air contains oxygen, which can react with fats, oils, and other components in the food, causing it to go rancid. Moreover, oxygen can lead to the growth of mould, bacteria, and other microorganisms that spoil the food.
So, how do manufacturers preserve the freshness and quality of crisps? By replacing the air in the package with nitrogen, a non-reactive gas that is inert and doesn't support the growth of microorganisms. This process is known as modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which involves altering the composition of the atmosphere inside the package to control the environment around the food.
Nitrogen is particularly useful for crisp packets because it has several properties that make it ideal for MAP. Firstly, nitrogen is abundant and inexpensive, which makes it a cost-effective solution for food packaging. Secondly, nitrogen is a non-toxic, odourless, and tasteless gas that doesn't affect the flavour or aroma of the food. Lastly, nitrogen is denser than oxygen, so it can help to prevent the chips from getting crushed or damaged during transport.
However, there is a catch. While nitrogen-filled crisp packets are great for preserving the freshness and quality of the chips, they can also make it harder for consumers to detect any issues with the product. For instance, if the crisps are stale or have gone off, the nitrogen can mask the odour and make it difficult to notice the problem until you've opened the packet.
To address this issue, some manufacturers have started to incorporate oxygen scavengers in the crisp packets, which can absorb any excess oxygen that may be present in the package. These scavengers are usually made from iron or other metals that react with oxygen to form rust or oxide compounds, effectively removing the oxygen from the environment.

Preserving Freshness and Quality

Have you ever opened a packet of crisps and found that they tasted stale and bland? This could be due to a lack of freshness in the product, which is a common issue in the food industry. To address this problem, manufacturers have started filling their crisp packets with nitrogen, which has proven to be an effective solution.
Nitrogen is an odourless and colourless gas that makes up about 78% of the Earth's atmosphere. It is non-reactive, which means it does not react with other substances, including food. By filling crisp packets with nitrogen, manufacturers can create a controlled atmosphere inside the packaging, which helps to preserve the freshness and quality of the product.
When crisp packets are filled with nitrogen, it displaces the oxygen that is naturally present inside the packaging. Oxygen is a reactive gas that can cause the fats and oils in crisps to oxidize and become rancid over time. This oxidation process can lead to the degradation of the product's flavour, texture, and overall quality.
By removing the oxygen from the packaging and replacing it with nitrogen, crisps can remain fresh for longer periods. Nitrogen creates a stable environment inside the packaging that helps to maintain the flavour and texture of the product. This ensures that consumers receive a crisp that is fresh and tasty, even if it has been on the shelf for several weeks.
Moreover, nitrogen helps to prevent moisture from building up inside the packaging. This is important because moisture can cause the crisps to become soggy and lose their crispiness. By creating a dry environment inside the packaging, the crisps remain crisp and crunchy for longer periods.
Preserving freshness and quality is crucial in the food industry, particularly for crisps which are known for their crispy texture and savoury taste. Filling crisp packets with nitrogen helps to ensure that the product remains fresh and tasty for an extended period, which is beneficial for both consumers and manufacturers.
However, while nitrogen-filled crisp packets are a popular solution to the problem of freshness, there are also some concerns about their environmental impact. In the next section, we will explore the sustainability concerns associated with nitrogen-filled crisp packets.

Preventing Oxidation and Rancidity

One of the main reasons why crisp packets are filled with nitrogen is to prevent the chips from going stale due to oxidation and rancidity. When potato chips are exposed to oxygen, they begin to undergo a chemical reaction that breaks down their fats and oils. This can cause them to develop off-flavours, odours, and textures that are unappealing to consumers.
By filling the packets with nitrogen, manufacturers can create a controlled environment that reduces the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with the chips. Nitrogen is an inert gas, which means it does not react with other substances. This makes it ideal for displacing oxygen and creating a low-oxygen environment that helps preserve the freshness and quality of the chips.
The process of filling crisp packets with nitrogen is relatively simple. Before the packets are sealed, they are purged with nitrogen gas, which replaces the air inside the packet with nitrogen. This creates an oxygen-free environment that helps to prevent oxidation and rancidity. The amount of nitrogen used can vary depending on the type of crisps and the desired shelf life.
In addition to nitrogen, some manufacturers also use other gases, such as carbon dioxide or argon, to preserve their chips. Carbon dioxide can also help prevent oxidation and rancidity, but it has the added benefit of inhibiting the growth of bacteria that can cause food spoilage. Argon, on the other hand, is an even more effective inhibitor of oxidation and can help extend the shelf life of crisps even further.
Despite the benefits of using nitrogen and other gases to preserve crisps, some people have raised concerns about the environmental impact of this practice. The production and transportation of gases can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of single-use plastic packets for crisps can also generate a lot of waste. However, some companies are exploring more sustainable packaging options, such as compostable bags or reusable containers, that can help reduce their environmental footprint.

Ensuring Food Safety and Shelf Life

Food safety and shelf life are two crucial factors that food manufacturers need to take into consideration when it comes to packaging their products. Crisp packets are no exception. The packaging of crisps is designed to protect the product from environmental factors that could cause it to spoil or deteriorate, and nitrogen plays a vital role in ensuring that this happens.
Nitrogen, an inert gas, is not reactive and doesn't interact with the other substances it's mixed with, such as oxygen. Therefore, it's perfect for crisps, as it prevents them from coming into contact with air, which can cause oxidation, rancidity, and spoilage. The absence of air and oxygen in the packaging also means that there is no chance of bacterial growth.
When crisps are exposed to oxygen, the oils and fats inside them are at risk of becoming rancid, which leads to off-flavours and spoilage. This is because oxygen interacts with the oils in the crisps, causing a chemical reaction that changes the taste, texture, and smell of the product. Therefore, by removing oxygen from the crisp packet, the product's shelf life is extended significantly.
In addition to oxygen, light and moisture can also cause damage to crisps, leading to a loss of quality and freshness. Nitrogen is used to flush out all the oxygen, moisture, and light in the packaging, leaving the crisps in a sealed environment that protects them from the environment. The nitrogen used in crisp packaging is pure and dry, meaning it won't affect the taste or texture of the crisps in any way.
Another advantage of nitrogen in crisp packaging is that it prevents the formation of acrylamide. Acrylamide is a chemical that forms when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures, such as deep-fried crisps. It's believed to be a potential carcinogen and can affect the taste of the product. However, by packing crisps in a nitrogen environment, the risk of acrylamide formation is significantly reduced, providing a safer product for consumers.
Nitrogen-flushed crisp packets are also more robust than conventional packets. Nitrogen is used to fill the packets under pressure, which means that they are harder to puncture or damage. This provides better protection for the crisps during transport, ensuring they arrive at their destination in the best possible condition.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability Concerns

While nitrogen-filled crisp packets may have a multitude of benefits for preserving freshness and ensuring food safety, there are also concerns about their environmental impact and sustainability. Nitrogen is a natural gas that is abundant in our atmosphere, but the process of extracting it for industrial use can be energy-intensive and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, the use of single-use packaging like crisp packets has come under scrutiny in recent years due to the amount of waste they generate. Plastic crisp packets can take hundreds of years to degrade in the environment, and their disposal can contribute to ocean pollution and harm wildlife.
As a response to these concerns, many snack manufacturers have taken steps to reduce their environmental impact by developing more sustainable packaging alternatives. For example, some companies have begun to experiment with biodegradable or compostable materials that break down more easily in the environment. Others have introduced reusable containers or introduced programs to incentivize customers to recycle their packaging.
While these efforts are commendable, there is still a long way to go before the snack food industry can claim to be truly sustainable. Ultimately, the best solution for reducing the environmental impact of nitrogen-filled crisp packets and other types of packaging is to encourage consumers to reduce their consumption of single-use plastics altogether. This can be achieved through a combination of education, policy changes, and technological innovation, and will require the cooperation of businesses, governments, and individuals alike.

The use of biodegradable packaging for crisps

In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the environmental impact of single-use plastic packaging, including crisp packets. Many consumers are now seeking more sustainable alternatives, such as bio-degradable packaging.
Biodegradable packaging is made from natural materials that break down quickly in the environment, leaving behind no harmful pollutants. This is in contrast to traditional plastic packaging, which can take hundreds of years to decompose.
Some companies are now experimenting with bio-degradable packaging for crisps, such as bags made from cellulose or starch-based materials. These new materials offer a promising alternative to traditional plastic packaging, as they are much more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
However, there are still some challenges to overcome when it comes to using biodegradable packaging for crisps. For example, the packaging needs to be strong enough to protect the crisps from damage, and it must also be able to seal properly to ensure freshness and quality.
Another issue is the cost. Biodegradable packaging is still more expensive to produce than traditional plastic packaging, and this can make it difficult for some companies to switch over.
Despite these challenges, the use of biodegradable packaging for crisps is a promising development. As more consumers demand sustainable and environmentally friendly options, more companies will likely start to explore these alternatives.

Crisp brands making the biggest improvements in packaging

As consumer awareness and concern for the environment increase, crisp manufacturers have started to take notice and make significant improvements to their packaging. Some of the biggest players in the industry are now leading the charge to reduce waste and increase sustainability.
One such brand is PepsiCo, the company behind Lay's and Walkers. In 2019, they announced their plans to make all of their packaging 100% recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable by 2025. They have already started testing out compostable bags in certain markets, such as their "Simply" line of snacks.
Another notable example is Pringles, which has begun using paper-based canisters instead of plastic. These canisters are not only more eco-friendly, but they also preserve the freshness of the chips for longer periods, reducing the amount of food waste.
Kettle Foods, which prides itself on using natural and sustainably sourced ingredients, has also made significant strides in reducing its environmental impact. They have transitioned to using 100% compostable packaging for their products, which breaks down in a matter of months when properly disposed of.
Overall, these improvements in packaging not only benefit the environment but also align with consumers' desire for sustainable and ethical business practices. It is important to continue supporting these brands that prioritize sustainability and hold others accountable for their impact on the planet.

In conclusion

Nitrogen-filled crisp packets are essential for maintaining the freshness, quality, and safety of the product. Nitrogen helps prevent the oxidation and rancidity of the potato chips by removing the oxygen that causes spoilage. This process allows the chips to maintain their crispness and flavour for a longer period.
While some people may question the use of nitrogen for crisp packaging due to environmental concerns, it is worth noting that most manufacturers are now taking steps to ensure that their packaging is sustainable. This includes using eco-friendly materials and reducing the amount of packaging used.
Overall, the benefits of using nitrogen in crisp packaging far outweigh any potential environmental concerns. Consumers can enjoy their favourite snacks while also feeling assured that the food they are consuming is safe and fresh. With advances in technology and increased focus on sustainability, the future of crisp packaging is looking brighter than ever before.