A thermochromic ink that changes color at high temperatures now offers food manufacturers a more reliable coding method, with a more noticeable color change, to indicate correct sterilization of packaged food products. Designed for retort sterilization of filled cans or plastic pouches, the ink changes from black to blue when the food package reaches the correct temperature of between 115 and 125°C.
With governments’ growing regulatory demands for proper coding and marking on cooked food products, there is an increasing interest in product authenticity and quality assurance. Manufacturers are looking for a highly reliable coding method that can help improve product safety while also fitting with the high throughput, high accuracy demands of their production.
This is especially important in the food industry, where heat-treated ready meals are becoming more popular. A particular need is for a method that can be used on the increasingly popular plastic pouches used for such meals and baby food and pet food.
Thermochromic inks that change color when the treated product reaches the required temperature support this need. While thermochromic inks cannot guarantee that sterilization has occurred, they assist manufacturers by providing a good indication that the process has taken place. While there have previously been challenges associated with this form of coding, as discussed below, today’s launch addresses those issues.
Print on all surfaces
Markem-Imaje’s MS596 thermochromic ink can be used to print on both metal cans and plastic film. With excellent adhesion to polyolefin pouches, no pre-or post-treatment of the packaging material is required.
In contrast to the dedicated white printing area, the ink offers an exact color change from black to blue at retort temperature. It has an operating temperature from 5 to 40ºC, ensuring it can work effectively in a wide range of environmental conditions.
Used in the company’s 9450 continuous inkjet printer, the ink also contributes to printing reliability. Unlike some earlier generations of thermochromic ink, today’s innovation will not change color prematurely due to the printer itself’s temperature effects, rather than the sterilization process.
The ink also aids maximum production throughput with a drying time of only one second on all materials. Previous generations of thermochromic ink were smearing the printed code, leading to the information becoming illegible. MS596 resists tarnishing to maintain high coding legibility and is less affected by oil and grease residues or water during the retort process.
Given this, ink can come into contact with food, all raw materials used to create it have been closely chosen in line with the Swiss Ordinance, ensuring inks are safe to use in such situations.
The ink is formulated and manufactured by the EuPIA (European Printing Ink Association) “Guideline on printing inks applied to the non-food contact surface of food packaging materials and articles” and complies fully with the EuPIA Exclusion Policy.
It does not feature ingredients dangerous to aquatic life, nor does it contain methanol, which is highly toxic to the human nervous system. While other significant suppliers still use methanol in some of their new inks, no ink launched by Markem-Image within the last ten years contains methanol. This forms part of the company’s long-standing approach to go beyond bare minimum compliance and consider where regulations are headed. Its customers are not caught off guard by tightening legislation. The spate of methanol-related hand sanitizer scandals earlier this year suggests this ingredient will likely face tighter regulations in the future.