The technical purposes of packaging are:
- To contain foods (to hold the contents and keep them clean and secure without leakage or breakage until they are used).
- To protect foods against a range of hazards during distribution and storage (to provide a barrier to dirt, micro-organisms and other contaminants, and protection against damage caused by insects, birds and rodents, heat, oxidation, and moisture pickup or loss).
- To give convenient handling throughout the production, storage and distribution system, including easy opening, dispensing and re-sealing, and being suitable for easy disposal, recycling or re-use.
- To enable the consumer to identify the food, and give instructions so that the food is stored and used correctly.
- Packaging is important because it aids food distribution, and rapid and reliable distribution helps remove local food surpluses, allows consumers more choice in the foods available and helps to reduce malnutrition.
- Packaging also reduces post harvest losses, which together with giving access to larger markets, allow producers to increase their incomes.
Therefore, adequate packaging in developing countries has profound effects on both the pattern of food consumption and the amount of food consumed.
The shelf life of a food is the length of time it can be stored before the quality becomes unacceptable, and this includes the time to distribute food to retailers and store it by the consumer. It is important to note that the selection of a packaging material for a particular food depends not only on its technical suitability (i.e. how well the package protects a food for the required shelf life), but also on the availability and cost in a particular area, and any marketing considerations that favour choosing a certain type of package.