In the northern Italian city of Como is what might be the only modified-atmosphere packaging operation not in a dedicated meat packing plant but rather in a retail supermarket.
Recently installed in a Bennet store in Como is a completely automated slice/pack/weigh/label system. A store operator places a loaf of luncheon meat on the infeed/slicing system and about 16 feet later the finished MAP pack, weighed and labeled, emerges out the other end.
In the center of the operation is a tray denester from Yang. It pulls a PET tray from a stack and indexes it upstream in the direction of the conveyor that brings sliced meat from the Bizerba slicing machine. The slices of meat drop from the conveyor into the tray, which then moves automatically back in the direction from which it came. It passes back underneath the tray denester and into the Yang vacuum tray sealer. Here the tray is evacuated and backflushed with carbon dioxide and nitrogen before a polyester lidding material is heat sealed in place. Trays exit this sealing chamber and are weighed on a Bizerba system that also thermal-transfer prints a label identifying precise weight and price. Refrigerated shelf life is seven to ten days.
Bennet’s decision to become its own meat packer is based on the belief that a certain demographic will prefer luncheon meat that, because it’s not from a central meat packer, has no preservatives to give it a 30-day shelf life. Yet it still has a shelf life that makes it possible to have a steady in-home supply of fresh sliced parma ham, for example, without having to shop for it any more often than once every ten days or so.