Antimicrobial, plant based food wrap designed to replace plastic
Aiming to produce environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic food wrap and containers, a Rutgers scientist has developed a biodegradable, plant-based coating that can be sprayed on foods, guarding against pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms and transportation damage. The scalable process could potentially reduce the adverse environmental impact of plastic food packaging as well as protect human health.
The research was conducted in concert with scientists at Harvard University and funded by the Harvard-Nanyang Technological University/Singapore Sustainable Nanotechnology Initiative.
Their article, published in the science journal Nature Food, describes the new kind of packaging technology using the polysaccharide/biopolymer-based fibers. Like the webs cast by the Marvel comic book character Spider-Man, the stringy material can be spun from a heating device that resembles a hair dryer and "shrink-wrapped" over foods of various shapes and sizes, such as an avocado or a sirloin steak. The resulting material that encases food products is sturdy enough to protect bruising and contains antimicrobial agents to fight spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms such as E. coli and listeria.
The research paper includes a description of the technology called focused rotary jet spinning, a process by which the biopolymer is produced, and quantitative assessments showing the coating extended the shelf life of avocados by 50 percent. The coating can be rinsed off with water and degrades in soil within three days, according to the study.
The new packaging is targeted at addressing a serious environmental issue: the proliferation of petroleum-based plastic products in the waste stream. Efforts to curb the use of plastic, such as legislation in states like New Jersey to eliminate plastic shopping bag distribution at grocery stores, can help,the researchers said But they wanted to do more.
The paper describes how the new fibers encapsulating the food are laced with naturally occurring antimicrobial ingredients – thyme oil, citric acid and nisin. Researchers in the Demokritou research team can program such smart materials to act as sensors, activating and destroying bacterial strains to ensure food will arrive untainted. This will address growing concern over food-borne illnesses as well as lower the incidence of food spoilage,the researchers added.
B.Sc Life Sciences, M.Sc Biotechnology, B.Ed