Today’s consumer is both demanding and savvy, expecting both the best quality and longest shelf life possible for food products. Here’s where tray sealers can benefit commercial food businesses, whether you’re supplying fresh produce or ready-made meals. 

What Are Tray Sealers and How Do They Work?

In basic terms, tray sealers are machines that apply a plastic film lid to a product-filled tray and seal it shut. 

Often known as tray lidding machines or heat sealers, there are a few variations of sealers. However, like vacuum packers, they all operate with the same basic process:

  • A food tray that has been pre-loaded with your product is fed into the machine via an in-feed conveyor. 
  • The plastic film and tray are compressed against a heated upper tooling. 
  • This activates the sealing properties to seal the tray airtight, whilst the film is also cut. 
  • After enough time has passed for the seal to be fully formed, the seal station lowers the tray back down and sends it to the outfeed of the machine. 

In general terms, there are three main types of tray sealer.

  • Manual Tray Sealer: As it says on the tin, the manual sealer requires a person to load each tray. The machine will seal the tray automatically, but you’ll need to manually remove the completed tray and any excess plastic film, each time.
  • Semi-Automatic Tray Sealer: This type of sealer removes the need for some of the manual handling of the manual tray sealer, saving you some time. Generally, you’ll still need a person to manually feed and remove the trays from the machine, but the machine will automatically seal the tray and remove any excess film.
  • Automated Tray Sealer: Every aspect of the tray sealing process is automated, from the tray entering the machine, applying the seal, removing the excess film and sending it out again. These machines can be integrated with weighing machines and labelling machines, resulting in products that are ready to ship. 

What Are the Advantages of Tray Sealing?

Sealing foods in a tray has many benefits for food businesses. In the ongoing quest for profitability, tray sealing can help reduce costs and improve customer loyalty. 

Keep Food Fresh for Longer

At its most basic, tray sealing helps to keep your product fresher for longer. That means it will have a longer shelf life, from the moment you seal it until it reaches your customer. 

Keep Your Product Hygienic

In these post-pandemic days, keeping foods hygienic is a critical aspect of food packaging. Tray sealing signals to customers that no one else has handled their food before they buy it.

Makes Your Product Look More Attractive

There’s no doubt that a well-fitting, clear plastic lid can make your product look more presentable. If you also consider that tray sealing your product will help to prevent leaks, then you’ll have a more attractive-looking product all-round. By also applying your own branding to the product, you may well find that customers remain loyal to your brand in the long term.

Save Space on the Shelf

Using a tray sealer can ensure that you pack your product with maximum efficiency, reducing wasted packaging and shelf space. Long-term, this can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Which Foods Are Best Suited?

Tray sealing has a wide range of applications, but without a doubt, it’s highly suited to packaging fresh products. 

The shelf life and presentation of raw meat, fish and shellfish are all vastly improved through the use of tray sealing. However, tray sealers are also great for packaging fruit and vegetables to keep them fresh, as well as pre-prepared foods such as soups and sauces, and even frozen meals. 

How Do You Choose the Right Tray Sealer?

There are several aspects to consider when you choose the right sealer for your business. 

Most importantly, you’ll need to consider the volume of trays that you plan to seal. A bubble tea shop may only need to seal plastic cups on an individual basis, meaning a manual tray sealer is perfectly adequate. However, if you’re producing and packaging vast quantities of ready meals to be shipped around the country, you’re going to want something a bit more automated! 

In addition to the volumes of trays you’ll be handling daily, your choice of tray material, shape and size, as well as the plastic film lid, will all have an impact on the type of sealer you invest in. Some tray sealers allow you to quickly change the mould, meaning you can chop and change the types of trays you’re sealing depending on the product you’re packaging, which can give you extra flexibility. 

A sometimes-overlooked aspect of choosing a tray sealer is how easy it is to clean! There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to clean tight corners on your packaging machinery. 

So, What is the Best Way to Seal a Food Tray? 

The answer is it very much depends on the nature of your business and product. High-volume businesses will want to look at automated tray sealers, while businesses that only need to seal trays on an occasional basis may prefer a manual tray sealer. Whichever tray sealer you ultimately choose, you can be confident that your product will be reaching your customers in the best possible condition.