Researchers keep food fresh with biodegradable packaging

Researchers keep food fresh with biodegradable packaging
KTU researchers Paulius Pavelas Danilovas and Vesta Navikaitė-Snipaitien

Food packaging materials being developed at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) aims to be fully biodegradable as well as keeping food fresher for longer.

As well as helping to cut down on epidemic packaging waste, it would also serve to reduce the number of food-borne illnesses.

“Food packaging is mainly made from various plastics, which are being produced from non-renewable sources and are non-biodegradable. Also, it is not always possible to recycle them as leftovers from food amount to almost 50% of the packaging waste,” said Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, researcher at KTU Department of Polymer Chemistry and Technology.

Headed by Danilovas, the team of researchers at the KTU Department of Polymer Chemistry and Technology are developing a technological solution for packaging which would naturally biodegrade. To accomplish this aim, they investigated the possibility to create it from cellulose composites.

The innovation could also be used to cut down on food-borne illnesses. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 350 thousand of people die from food borne illnesses every year. 52 thousand of deaths are caused by salmonella, 37 thousand – by e. coli bacteria.

“Our goal was to create a biodegradable package, which could help to keep food fresh for longer, which could have anti-oxidizing or antimicrobial properties,” said Danilovas.

Vesta Navikaitė-Snipaitienė, chemical engineering PhD student at KTU and one of the research team members was responsible for testing the efficiency of various ethereal oils when added to the cellulose-based film.

She said: “Active components of clove ethereal oil are very effective in tying free radicals; this oil proved efficient in enriching packaging with anti-oxidizing qualities. This effect helps to keep food fresh for longer, but such a package is not antimicrobial.”

Danilovas added: “To achieve antimicrobial effect, we added ionic silver particles to the cellulose based packaging. The results we achieved were quite unexpected – the silver particles made the packaging film more elastic and stronger.”

The film, which is enriched with silver, inhibits the growth of microorganisms and its antimicrobial properties remain active for long.

According to Danilovas, it is a great challenge to develop food packaging as for this thermal methods are always being used and cellulose does not have thermoplastic properties.

The modified cellulose packaging degrades in nature in around two years. The production of the packaging prototype was practically tested in a Lithuanian enterprise.

The commercialisation of biodegradable active food packaging products, which could replace the non-recyclable plastics is in near future plans of the researchers.