Scientists develop biodegradable and antimicrobial food packaging

Scientists have developed a biodegradable food packaging material that kills microbes that contaminate food. The airtight packaging uses a type of corn protein called zein, along with starch and other natural compounds. A team of scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, US developed the material.

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According to a study published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, the new packaging material could help extend the shelf life of fresh foods by days. Laboratory experiments with the packaging have shown its resilience when exposed to increased humidity or harmful bacteria enzymes. The wrap releases natural antimicrobial compounds that can kill common fungi and bacteria such as E. Coli.

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Professor Philip Demokritou, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School, says the new material could help solve current food safety and waste issues. “Food safety and waste have become a major societal challenge of our time with an immense impact on public health and the economy that compromises food safety. One of the most effective ways to improve food safety and reduce spoilage and waste is to develop biodegradable and non-toxic food packaging materials,” said Demokritou.

The material is designed to release the exact amounts of antimicrobial required to deal with any bacteria or moisture that may be in the food. This ensures that the packaging can withstand exposure to different environments. It also eliminates the risk of antimicrobials being ingested and affecting the normal digestive process.

In an experiment conducted by the researchers, strawberries packed in the new packaging stayed fresh for seven days before developing mold. In contrast, fresh strawberries packed in regular plastic boxes only lasted four days before developing mold.

Researchers say the material’s ability to extend shelf life can help prevent food waste. The material is also being championed as an alternative to plastic packaging, which is known to cause pollution issues.

Professor Mary Chan, Director of NTU’s Center for Antimicrobial Bioengineering and lead author of the study, said: “This invention would be a better option for packaging in the food industry, as it has demonstrated superior antimicrobial qualities in fighting a myriad of foods. – bacteria and related fungi that could be harmful to humans.

+NTU

Main image via NTU and Harvard University

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