A team of scientists from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore recently invented biodegradable food packaging made from corn protein and other naturally derived biopolymers. These are infused with a mixture of natural antimicrobial oil, which has the ability to extend the shelf life of fresh fruit by up to 72 hours compared to traditional plastic containers. This move is intended to cut down the amount of plastic packaging existing in the current food industry. Scientists explained that their plant-based waterproof packaging is made from a corn protein called ‘Zein’, designed to release “necessary amounts of antimicrobial compounds” in response to the presence of additional humidity or bacteria. By doing so, they also ensured that the packaging could endure several types of exposure environments, including temperature and pressure, and last for several months. The research is also published in the peer-reviewed academic journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
“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 Philip Demokritou, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School and director of the Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology Center and co-director of NTU-Harvard Initiative on Sustainable Nanotechnology, who co-led the study. Further elaborating on the same, he added that in this study they used nature-derived compounds, including biopolymers, non-toxic solvents, and nature-inspired antimicrobials. They developed sustainable scalable systems to synthesise smart antimicrobial materials that can be used not only to enhance food safety and quality but also to eliminate the harmful effects on health and reduce the use of non-biodegradable plastics at the global level. Scientists are confident that the research will promote sustainable agri-food systems. And be beneficial in the future.
Additionally, to test the efficacy of the novel food packaging, they conducted several experiments, exposing it to an increase in humidity or enzymes from harmful bacteria. In such instances, the fibers in the packaging have been shown to release the natural antimicrobial compounds, like oil from thyme, killing common bacteria that contaminate food, such as E. Coli and Listeria, as well as fungi, noted researchers.