Biltong, the coated meat ‘slab’ South African snack, is receiving a packaging makeover from equipment manufacturer, Safari-Vac™, in partnership with modified atmospheric packaging (MAP) specialist Afrox, sub-Saharan Africa’s leading industrial gases and welding company.

To ensure long shelf life, industrially produced biltong can be sold in modified atmospheric packaging (MAP). 

Vacuum packaging (VP), which keeps the atmosphere from contact with the biltong, can also be used but is not suitable for high-moisture biltong.

When in contact with moisture and oxygen, biltong goes mouldy with an unpalatable taste due to the microbial growth. Nitrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) are frequently used in MAP to control this growth.

Inert nitrogen displaces the oxygen in the packaging, and therefore inhibits oxidation and the growth of aerobic microorganisms, while CO2 promotes an antimicrobial effect on microorganisms and pathogens and is particularly effective in slowing down the onset of mould on moist biltong.

“In South Africa, Safari-Vac™ has been at the forefront of modified atmosphere packaging for over 30 years and Afrox has worked with Chris Johnson of Safari-Vac™ since 1988. Together, we have made some innovative breakthroughs in the packaging of biltong,” said Hans Strydom, Afrox Production Quality Manager.

Chris Johnson, owner and founder of Safari-Vac™, was approached by Afrox to manufacture customised equipment for the biltong market.

“The machines we developed use a high-grade vacuum pump to first extract the air out of a vacuum chamber with an open packet of biltong inside. We pull about 99.9kPA of vacuum at sea level, which means there is only 0.02% of the oxygen left in the bag,” said Chris Johnson, owner and founder of Safari-Vac™.

“At this point, the appropriate MAP gas mix is added to the chamber and, because the chamber is under vacuum, the gas expands in all directions. The pack is then sealed to lock in the MAP atmosphere that will best keep the biltong in its optimal condition,” Johnson said.

An additional novel innovation incorporated in Safari-Vac’s biltong packaging machines is the gas nozzle system, which has been copied by most other manufactures of vacuum packaging equipment around the globe.

“Our system has adjustable nozzle settings, however, which enables different size biltong bags to be catered for, making set-up of our Safari-Vac™ very easy. The nozzles will never be in the wrong place and the gas will always be blown in where it is needed,” said Johnson.