Have you ever wondered why potato chip bags are never filled all the way to the top? Keep reading to find out the reason.
Are Potato Chip Companies Ripping You Off?
Believe it or not, potato chip companies are not ripping you off when they don’t fill their bags to the top. And, as disappointing as it is to spend money on a bag of chips only to open it and find it’s just half full, you’d be more disappointed if manufacturers didn’t leave all of that empty space in there. That’s because that empty space, known as “slack fill,” is intentionally placed around the chips to protect them from damage. You see, it’s like this: all of that moving around from the production facility to the back of the delivery truck and then to the vending machine or store shelf you purchase them from can make for quite a bumpy adventure. So bumpy, in fact, that if it weren’t for that slack fill, your chips would look less like chips and more like small pieces of confetti by the time they reach you. The slack fill, then, gives your chips extra room, which acts as a buffer against rough handling — intentional or otherwise.
That’s Not Air in Those Bags
Okay, so you probably thought the empty space in potato chip bags was filled with air, right? Well, it isn’t air. It’s actually nitrogen gas. Potato chip manufacturers use nitrogen gas to help keep the chips fresh. It actually acts as a preservative. Not only that but exposing potato chips to nitrogen makes them taste better, too. Oh, and if you’re worried about the safety of nitrogen, don’t be. Nitrogen is a natural gas and is totally harmless. In fact, about 78 percent of the air we breathe each day is actually nitrogen.
Okay, so it’s safe — but so is air. Why didn’t they use that instead, you ask? Well, air, or oxygen as it’s technically known, is very reactive. As a result, it often combines with other molecules whenever it can, causing chemical changes to take place. So, what does this mean for your chips? It means that if those bags were filled with oxygen instead of nitrogen, the chips inside would turn soggy and spoil. On the other hand, nitrogen is very stable and unreactive, and as a result, prevents the chips from oxidizing.
How Much Air (Nitrogen) is in Bags of Chips?
How much air there is in each bag of chips depends on the type of chips you’re purchasing. In other words, there is no industry standard for how much nitrogen goes into each bag. That being said, here’s some data from 2018 that was gathered by WKQC-FM, an adult contemporary radio station located in Charlotte, NC. The data shows how the amount of air in chip bags varies from one brand to another:
Cheetos — 59% air
Ruffles — 50% air
Stacy’s Pita Chips — 50% air
TERRA — 49% air
Doritos — 48% air
Kettle Brand — 47% air
Cape Cod — 46% air
Popchips — 45% air
Lays — 41% air
Sun Chips — 41% air
Lays Baked — 39% air
Tostitos Scoops — 34% air
Fritos — 19% air
But wait, if you thought you were going to get around it by purchasing Pringles because they’re in a can, you’d better think again. There’s a heck of a lot of air in Pringles cans, too — 28 percent, to be exact. Artist Henry Hargreaves found that out the hard way. “I assumed that Pringles would be the best value for money because it’s a tube filled with chips, but still there’s a hell of a lot of air there, and when I opened them, the chips don’t even go the whole way to the top of the tube. They were the ones that surprised me most,” Hargreaves told the BBC.
How You Can Still Get the Most Bang for Your Buck
If after all this you still feel like your being cheated, we have some good news for you. There are ways you can still get the most bang for your buck despite the amount of slack fill manufacturers put in each bag of chips. The first thing you could do is choose the brand that uses the least slack fill. As you can see above, that would be Fritos. But, not everyone wants corn chips, though. So, if corn chips aren’t your thing, there is something else you can do. According to an article published by Reader’s Digest, there is actually a way to tell how much product is in your bag before you open it. No, you don’t have to feel the bag — although that would give you a good idea of the air-to-chip ratio. But, if you really want to know the exact amount of chips in the bag, all you have to do is take a look at the net weight of the product. Manufacturers began including this information on their products after Congress passed the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act in 1966. The act required manufacturers to disclose this information to prevent fraud or deceit.
But, wait… there’s still something else you could do. If you really feel like the chip manufacturers are not being fair, you could always take legal action — the odds most likely wouldn’t be in your favor, but it might be worth a try. According to Vox.com, class-action lawsuits centering around underfilled products have been on the rise over the past few years. “These slack fill cases are almost always filed as class-actions because by themselves, they wouldn’t have any power,” Robert Niemann, a partner at the San Francisco-based law firm Keller Heckman who specializes in defending manufacturers and food companies in class action suits, told Vox.com. “You’d only be claiming that basically one bag is not full or one container is not full. The power is in the number of sales. These are about slack fill, or rather ‘non-functional’ slack fill. Every container has some amount of slack fill; the problem is non-functional slack fill, when there doesn’t seem to be a purpose for that size of a void in there. You’d think there’d be more product and less space.”
Niemann added that most of the cases are settled. Most of them don’t go to trial.