Biodegradable Smart Food Packaging Material Can Kill Harmful Bacteria

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Smart Food Packaging Material

Water-proof food packaging is produced by infusing a cocktail of natural antimicrobial compounds with starch, zein – a corn protein, and other naturally derived biopolymers. The various natural antimicrobial ingredients include oil from thyme. Thyme is a common herb used in citric acid and during the cooking process.

During the lab experiments, the fibers in packaging release the natural antimicrobial compounds, particularly when exposed to enhanced humidity or enzymes from harmful bacteria to kill common dangerous bacteria that contaminate food like fungi, Listeria, and E. Coli.

Smart Food Packaging Material

The packaging is innovated to release the important antimicrobial compounds in considerable amounts only in response to bacteria or additional humidity. However, this assures that packaging endured well under extreme exposures and can last for a longer period of time.

These compounds can fight any bacteria growth on the packaging surface or on the product itself. The packaging material has the potential to be used for a large number of products like vegetables, fruits, raw meat, and ready-to-eat food.

This innovation is the output of collaboration by scientists from NTU-Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Initiative for Sustainable Nanotechnology. Their initiatives brought the researchers together from Harvard Chana School and NTU to efficiently work on the advanced application and agricultural growth with the motive of creating environmentally safe and non-toxic nanomaterials.

The development of such innovative food packaging material is a part of university initiatives to support sustainable tech solutions, particularly in the food space that is well aligned with the strategic plan and 2025 that further promote and develop a sustainable solution to address present humanity challenges.

Efforts on lowering their packaging waste

The packaging sector is the largest consumer of synthetic plastic extracted out of fossil fuels. Food packaging plastic piles up a huge amount of plastic waste that is harmful to the environment.

Packaging is a primary source of trash. In Singapore, the National Environment Agency reveals that out of 1.76 million tons of waste products by plastic sources in 2018, around one-third acquired the packaging waste and around 55% of it was plastic.

Smart food packaging material has emerged as an alternative to lower plastic waste. Its main ingredients include zein which is extracted from corn gluten meal, and it is also a waste product of corn starch, thereby exponentially reducing the amount of waste generated.

However, the team at Harvard Chan School and NTU are looking forward to scaling up their technology with the initiative to commercialize it in the coming years. They are currently developing some other technologies to create a biopolymer-based smart food packaging material to further improve the quality and safety of the food.

Prof Mary Chan added: “The sustainable and biodegradable active food packaging, which has inbuilt technology to keep bacteria and fungus at bay, is of great importance to the food industry. It could serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based polymers used in commercial food packaging, such as plastic, which have a significant negative environmental impact.”