MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Chip Bags Have So Much Air In Them

One of the most disappointing things in the world is to rip into a bag of chips only to find an empty air pocket where your snack should be. Why does it always seem like chip bags are half empty?

Well, there’s actually a reason that that extra space is left open in the package. “Slack fill” is what chip manufacturers call it & it’s an intentional choice made to protect their delicate products from the damage of rough handling during the shipping process. When products are stacked atop one another, crammed into tight spaces, or just jostled around in the back of a delivery truck, “slack fill” acts as an air cushion to prevent your tortilla chips from becoming tortilla crumbs.

Oh, and according to Mental Floss, that’s not just ordinary air puffing up your chip bag, either…it’s actually nitrogen. Because, since oxygen can cause the potatoes to spoil & the oil to go rancid, not to mention that humidity in ambient air makes chips soggy, packages are instead filled with nitrogen gas to help them stay fresh. A trained panel of tasters actually confirmed it in a 1994 food science study. Nitrogen flushing isn’t harmful in any way, since about 78% of the air we breathe is composed of nitrogen already. But, that doesn’t excuse the sheer proportion of space that gas occupies in a bag that’s supposed to be filled with food.

The federal Fair Packaging & Labeling Act of 1966 required manufacturers to clearly indicate the net weight of their product’s contents to prevent customers from being duped by huge-seeming containers on the shelves. But those regulations are rarely enforced. We, as consumers, are terrible at perceiving size accurately, and even the most discerning shoppers usually automatically assume that larger packaging means more product (that is, if you don’t look too closely at the label). So, while some extra space in a bag can help keep potato chips fresh and intact, any more than absolutely necessary could be the company trying to pull a fast one over you. So, always read the label!

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at andy@wfre.com.

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