There are loads of interesting, recent developments in the world of food and beverage packaging.
Here are five classic packaging technologies that have been around for years, and ain't about to disappear even if someone invents self-heating, nanoparticle-coated edible packages.
People have been blowing glass for centuries. But it was only when split mold technology emerged in the 17th and 18th century that it became possible for the glass itself to be "labeled" with raised lettering. That allowed merchants to jar their products and place their names upon the glass.
We may be using less of glass in the industry now than before, and the supermarket is filled with "shatterproof" jars that look like glass but are usually a plastic of some sort. But traditional glass remains a useful packaging system for a variety of food, particularly pickled vegetables, jellies and jams, and drinks.
Unfortunately, it turns out a lot of these products are made in the wrong shape for human hands.
People have been storing food in cans since the early 1800s, thanks in some part to Napoleon. In a old-timey version of the XPRIZE, he promised 12,000 francs to anyone who could come up with a way to preserve food for his army. Entrepreneurs responded with food sealed in metal boxes that were boiled. In 1810 the modern can was born when Peter Durand of Britain received a patent for tinplate used in food-storing cylinders.
Canned soup may not be doing so well these days, and cans are fighting a reputation for holding food that is considerably less healthy and tasty than fresh. But the canning industry is responding. And odds are your children's children will still need to know how to operate can opener.
Frozen food trays
People have been freezing food for millennia, a process that likely started when Ice Age hunters buried their kill in the snow.
And today most frozen food is simply food that is frozen and dropped in a bag. But the truly revolutionary change in frozen foods occurred in 1974, with the development of the differential heating container (DHC) -- a metal sleeve that held frozen foods and ensured a meal was heated evenly. The DHC turned frozen food from something that you cooked into a meal that you simply had to reheat.
The DHC was just the first in a long line of such products all designed to make the frozen dinner possible. The arrival of microwave ovens required a change in the way the sleeves and containers are made, but the basic concept remains the same: The packaging is designed so that each section of a meal receives the appropriate amount of heat.
That's not likely to change unless we find a way to cook that's even faster than microwaves. Besides, the frozen-food industry is working hard to convince consumers that frozen foods are healthy as well as fast.
Polyethylene terephthalate bottles
You can call them PETE or PET bottles. Either is perfectly fine with the chemists and packaging engineers that make them. But you must call them ubiquitous -- because they are everywhere.
Polyethylene terephthalate made its first appearance in the years right after WWII. But it was a chemical engineer named Nathaniel Wyeth (brother of painter Andrew Wyeth) who was granted a patent in 1973 for the first PET bottle -- a container made of polyethylene terephthalate that was strong enough to withstand the pressure of holding carbonated beverages.
There are multiple versions of the bottles available today. Look at the bottom of any plastic bottle in your refrigerator and you'll see a numerical designation that references some version of PET. There could be a No. 2 bottle holding Harmless Harvest coconut water, or a No. 1 bottle filled with Bolthouse Farms carrot juice.
Polyethylene terephthalate bottles are everywhere because there is no decent alternative. If there's anyone out there with the chemical engineering skills to create something stronger, cheaper, lighter and as safe as a PET bottle, they'll wind up rich enough to buy an Andrew Wyeth painting -- even without the family discount.
Aseptic food processing is the means by which foods are sterilized, then placed into a sterile container, and then kept sterile without the need for refrigeration.
If that sounds unduly complicated, then let's simplify things a bit. Aseptic cartons are milk cartons. They are also juice boxes. And soup cartons. And every other soft-shell box that holds a drink in your supermarket.
Aseptic cartons first appeared in dairy cases in Europe in the early 1960s. But they quickly spread around the world, allowing for the rise of industries like non-concentrated orange juice and the death of jobs like milkman.
If you've seen the sheer joy that a toddler gets from sticking one of those tiny straws into a juice box and drinking something sweet and natural and unspoiled, then you know it will probably be a very long time before anyone comes up with a replacement for the aseptic carton.