Researchers develop antimicrobial food packaging

Friday, 14 January, 2022

Researchers develop antimicrobial food packaging

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have developed a form of food packaging that is claimed to be able to kill harmful microbes. It is biodegradable and could also extend the shelf life of fresh fruit by up to three days.

The packaging is made from zein, which is a protein sourced from corn. Other constituent parts are naturally sourced starches and biopolymers. When the packaging is exposed to increases in humidity or the enzymes that harmful microbes create, its fibres release antimicrobial compounds that can keep food safe. The compounds are able to kill common bacteria such as E. coli and Listeria. The packaging is able produce the compounds over multiple exposures to bacteria.

The researchers suggest that the packaging material could be used for ready-to-eat foods, fruits and vegetables, and raw meats. As part of experiments into the properties of the material, it was used to cover strawberries, which stayed fresh for days longer than when packaged through the usual methods.

“Food safety and waste have become a major societal challenge of our times with immense public health and economic impact which compromises food security. One of the most efficient ways to enhance food safety and reduce spoilage and waste is to develop efficient biodegradable non-toxic food packaging materials,” said Professor Philip Demokritou, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School. Dr Demokritou is also Director at the Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Co-director of the NTU-Harvard Initiative on Sustainable Nanotechnology.

The paper outlining the packaging was published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces and is available here. The packaging was developed as part of NTU’s push to produce sustainable forms of food technology.

Image credit: NTU Singapore

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