Polyolefin Shrink Film and Food Packaging

Shrink Film for PackagingPackaging food with shrink film (found here) such as pizza, cheese, fruits and chocolate doesn’t just look good, but it is also sanitary and a great way to preserve food. There are a few things that you will need to know before packaging food using shrink wrap. For one, some grades of shrink film are not safe for use with food, where others are FDA approved. This article will cover the most popular food grade film known as polyolefin shrink film (found here).

First off, what is shrink film? Shrink film, sometimes referred to as shrink wrap packaging, is used to protect, bundle and preserve products. The film used is designed to contract and shrink when heat is applied. You may have seen shrink film on your DVDs, Blu-rays, Xbox games and more. It is very popular for retail packaging. Shrink film is affordable, easy to use / manipulate and can be used to package most retail products.

While boxes, DVDs, software and other items are popular to be packaged with shrink film, food is also another popular applicator for shrink film. The most popular film used today, known as PVC shrink film, is not usually safe for use with food. There are some exceptions. If you’re not sure what type of film you have, here are the characteristics of both Polyolefin and PVC film.

Traco I-Bar Shrink Wrap MachineShrink Film Characteristics

  • PVC Shrink Film – PVC film is a clear shrink film that once shrunk has a brittle characteristic to it. It is often used in non-food packaging. It can be very thick and typically ranges from 75 to 100 gauge thick. The higher the gauge, the thicker the film.
  • Polyolefin Shrink Film – Polyolefin film is a clear shrink film that has stretchy characteristics, making it ideal for use where PVC film may crack or break open. The stretchy characteristics of poly film are often compared to saran wrap.

Some PVC film is OK for indirect use with film. An example of this would be our PVC dome shrink bags (found here). These bags use an PDA approved PVC film that is OK for indirect use with food. An example of this would be a gift basket.

As a general rule, polyolefin is going to be your best bet with direct contact to film. Polyolefin, sometimes called poly film, is available in centerfold rolls for use with both I-bar (found here) and L-bar shrink wrap machines (found here). Polyolefin is typically more durable than PVC film, which means you usually don’t need as thick a gauge of film to accomplish what you could do with PVC. A 60 gauge poly film will be about as durable as 75 gauge PVC film.

Minipack Shrink Wrap MachineOne misconception that people have about polyolefin is that their base model shrink wrap machine, that uses PVC film, can’t use it. I used to think that myself as someone years ago told me a standard shrink wrap tunnel or heat gun didn’t produce enough heat to shrink polyolefin. I later discovered, from our manufacturer Traco, that most shrink wrap machines can use both PVC or polyolefin film and they both take about the same amount of heat to shrink. If you are considering packaging food using your old shrink wrap machine, you should be able to simply swap out your old PVC roll of film for a polyolefin roll. It is that easy.

I have used Polyolefin film on a standard I-bar sealer with a heat gun and it works great! I have also used polyolefin film on a variety of different Minipack, AIE and Traco shrink wrap machines with excellent results.

For those of you who love science, here is a technical explanation on exactly what Polyolefin film is straight from Wikipedia:

A polyolefin is a polymer produced from a simple olefin (also called an alkene with the general formula CnH2n) as amonomer. For example, polyethylene is the polyolefin produced by polymerizing the olefin ethylene. An equivalent term is polyalkene; this is a more modern term, although polyolefin is still used in the petrochemical industry. Polypropyleneis another common polyolefin which is made from the olefin propylene.

So there you have it! Everything you could possibly want to know about polyolefin shrink film. We have been selling centerfold polyolefin shrink film for use with I-bar and L-bar machines for years. Please feel free to call us at 1-800-658-8788 with any questions about shrink wrap or packaging. You can find our entire selection of shrink wrap machines here.

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