Packaging Problems at High Altitude

You’ll certainly notice some oddities in product packages if you live long at high altitude, and if you operate a business here, you’ll really need to know how to avoid problems.

Bags of potato chips are frequently swollen almost to the bursting point. Carry them up another couple thousand feet, and you might face a rain of chips!

Even better, yogurt cups in the grocery store often have swollen seals on them. When you open them, you are rewarded with a splat of yogurt from the plastic seal, which usually hits you in the face if you are watching to see when it goes! NesQuik containers also invariably have lids that refuse to stay on because the inner seal is so distended. People have stopped me in the grocery store to point to containers of yogurt and cottage cheese which had seals that were so puffed that the lids had popped off. I assured them that this was perfectly normal, and it is, up here!

This usually does not present much of a problem, but if you buy things at 6000 ft, and they are already in packaging that is stressed, you might want to reconsider before carrying them up to 10,000 ft! Somewhere along the way, your backpack might have an accident!

Most items that are tightly sealed will have this problem. Check in the Electronics page for information on how altitude affects printer cartridges. Most of the time, the problems are not harmful, merely amusing, occasionally annoying.

If you choose to operate a business up here though, you might want to consider the pressure at which items are packaged. Going from high altitude to low is usually less of a problem than the other way around, as you do not have the potential problem of an item exploding due to excess pressure. Rather, it will simply collapse or indent. Not so nice for sales presentation, but in no way damaging to packaged items.

Conversely, if you operate a factory at sea level, and intend to distribute the item at higher altitudes, a test or two on your packages at low pressure might be wise. Nobody really complains much if they tote a bag of chips up a hill and it pops in their pack. But if that happened to something liquid, or any other messy substances, your customers might be ticked off!

When you travel, and find towns in the mountains where all the packages in the store have puffed tops, just know that it is normal, and be careful how you handle them to avoid spillage if the top should pop.