A sealed bag of potato chips isn’t really full of air–it’s loaded with nitrogen to protect those chips from losing their crispness. The “air” or empty space in the bag is what the manufacturing industry calls “slack fill.” For decades, the bags have been filled with this preservative gas to keep products fresh, and since it’s good enough for potato chips, here’s why it’s critical for cannabis.
When oxygen enters cannabis packaging, the flower is at risk of weight degradation, loss of freshness and susceptible to developing mold and other potentially harmful microbes. Nitrogen has been an extremely prevalent additive to food products and general consumer packaged goods globally for over a century. Nitrogen makes up 78% of the air we breathe – yet many consumers lack awareness of its impact on our packaging.
According to a survey conducted by the Brightfield Group, the average cannabis consumer is typically not educated on the use of nitrogen and why the gas is crucial in packaging. The survey questioned cannabis consumers and budtenders and found there are some common myths surrounding nitrogen:
- First: Nitrogen is not safe to breathe in and is not environmentally friendly in my product’s container
- Second: Nitrogen will freeze my cannabis product, and reduce or alter its potency
- Third: When packaging is sealed with nitrogen, it creates an environment for mold growth
Nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is found in all living things. It is safe to breathe in and ingest. In fact, the food and beverage industry has been utilizing the nitrogen dosing method for decades as it pushes any oxygen out of the packaging, preserving the contents inside. Like other food additives, nitrogen has gone through rigorous safety assessment before it is ascertained as safe for food use.
The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization / World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has evaluated the safety of food-grade nitrogen and considered that it is safe upon normal consumption when used in foods following Good Manufacturing Practice — the same applies to using nitrogen to dose cannabis packaging. So, the next time you crack open a cold beer, or order your favorite nitro-brew coffee, remember that the rich or creamy mouthful is contributed by the nitrogen.
Nitrogen does not have freezing powers in a gas form — in respect to the second myth — only as a liquid. The nitrogen does not affect the cannabis’ potency. By modifying the atmosphere inside the package, cannabis packaging with nitrogen preserves quality, slows down spoilage and extends the products’ shelf life. Nitrogen also cushions and protects the delicate flower inside from being crushed during handling.
Tackling the final myth, the package must be sealed tightly to prevent the nitrogen from escaping. Once the package is unsealed, the cannabis is exposed to atmospheric air containing oxygen and moisture. With the lack of nitrogen protection in a controlled environment, the contents are then prone to moisture pickup, spoilage and oxidation. Therefore, it is best to consume the products soon once the package is opened.
The next time you open a bag of potato chips and discover that the bag only fills about half of the package, you’ll know that it’s not just a marketing ploy to increase sales, but that the extra air space in the package is there for protection against damage during handling.
As the nitrogen infusion cannabis packaging industry advances, it will continue to consider how it might become a more recognized CPG product and embrace the technologies that CPG develops in order to gain customer acceptability.
This article originally appeared on MyCannabis.net and has been reposted with permission.