Smart packaging from corn extends food shelf life

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US, successfully designed a new packaging material that is biodegradable, sustainable, and kills harmful microbes. Their study is published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces journal.

The natural food packaging is made from a type of corn protein called zein, starch and other naturally derived biopolymers, infused with a cocktail of natural antimicrobial compounds (oil from thyme and citric acid).

In lab experiments, when exposed to an increase in humidity or enzymes from harmful bacteria, the fibres in the packaging have been shown to release the natural antimicrobial compounds, killing common dangerous bacteria that contaminate food, such as E. Coli and Listeria, as well as fungi.

The packaging is designed to release the necessary miniscule amounts of antimicrobial compounds only in response to the presence of additional humidity or bacteria. This ensures that the packaging can endure several exposures, and last for months.

The packaging material was developed through electrospinning of zein from corn, together with antimicrobial compounds, cellulose, and acetic acid. Thus, the material is considered biodegradable and can potentially help cut down the amount of plastic waste.

Strawberries wrapped in the smart packaging remained fresh for a week, which is three days longer than those that were stored in conventional plastic boxes used for strawberries.

The team of NTU and Harvard Chan School researchers hope to scale up their technology with an industrial partner, with the aim of commercialisation within the next few years.

Aytac Z. et al. Enzyme- and relative humidity-responsive antimicrobial fibers for active food packaging. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2021, 13, 42, 50298–50308

Read the news release from NTU.

Source: Crop Biotech Update

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