News • 06.07.2022

Food-packaging system reduces health risks and saves food

Antimicrobial food wrap could reduce food waste and foodborne illness

A small train with locomitive and wagons built from vegetables like carrots,...
Source: Sigmund/Unsplash

As food costs continue to rise and a global food crisis looms on the horizon, it’s staggering to think that some 30-40% of America’s food supply ends up in landfills, mostly due to spoilage. At the same time, the World Health Organization estimates that foodborne illness from microbial contamination causes about 420,000 deaths per year worldwide. 

What if there were a way to package fresh foods that could extend their shelf life and eliminate microbial contamination?

Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have developed a biodegradable, antimicrobial food packaging system that does both. 

“One of the biggest challenges in the food supply is the distribution and viability of the food items themselves,” said Kit Parker, the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at SEAS and senior author of the paper. “We are harnessing advances in materials science and materials processing to increase both the longevity and freshness of the food items and doing so in a sustainable model.”

From the battlefield to the farm

The new food packing system has its roots in battlefield medicine. For more than a decade, Parker and his Disease Biophysics Group have been developing antimicrobial fibers for wound dressings. Their fiber manufacturing platform, known as Rotary Jet-Spinning (RJS), was designed specifically for that purpose.

RJS works likes a cotton candy machine — a liquid polymer solution is loaded into a reservoir and pushed out through a tiny opening by centrifugal force as the device spins. As the solution leaves the reservoir, the solvent evaporates, and the polymers solidify to form fibers, with controlled diameters ranging from microscale to nanoscale.

The idea to translate the research from wound dressing to food packing was born of a collaboration with Philip Demokritou, the former co-Director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology (NanoCenter) at Harvard’s Chan School. 

Making food more sustainable

To make the fibers food-safe, the team turned to a polymer known as pullulan. Pullulan is an edible, tasteless and naturally occurring polysaccharide commonly used in breath fresheners and mints.

The researchers dissolved the pullulan polymer in water and mixed it with range of naturally derived antimicrobial agents, including thyme oil, nisin and citric acid. The solution is then spun in an RJS system and the fibers are deposited directly on a food item. The researchers demonstrated the technique by wrapping an avocado with pullulan fibers. The result resembles a fruit wrapped in spiderweb. 

The team demonstrated that their fiber wrapping increased the shelf life of avocado, a notoriously finicky fruit that can turn from ripe to rotten in a matter of hours. After 7 days on a lab bench, 90% of unwrapped avocados were rotten while only 50% of avocados wrapped in antimicrobial pullulan fibers rotted.

The wrapping is also water soluble and biodegradable, rinsing off without any residue on the avocado surface.

The lab’s latest innovations in food packaging may also soon enter commercial development. Harvard Office of Technology Development has protected the intellectual property relating to this project and is now exploring commercialization opportunities with Parker’s lab.

Source: Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

related articles:

popular articles:

Thumbnail-Photo: EuroCIS 2024 - technology special
11.12.2023   #online trading #e-commerce

EuroCIS 2024 - technology special

The latest technology solutions and trends for you and the retail sector

At EuroCIS 2022 from February 27 to 29, 2024, the Leading Trade Fair for Retail Technology, we will be looking at all the important and current topics relating to technology in retail: AI and Machine Learning, Payment, Connected Retail, Seamless Store and Smart Energy Management and many more.

Thumbnail-Photo: Payment as a success factor: more than just paying...
15.01.2024   #Tech in Retail #payment systems

Payment as a success factor: more than just paying

Flashback to 1994: databases and ERP systems, first commercial websites, mobile phones with colour displays, CD-ROMs, Java as a programming language ...

Thumbnail-Photo: The SALTO WECOSYSTEM: A new brand DNA for the future of advanced access...
13.02.2024   #Tech in Retail #access control

The SALTO WECOSYSTEM: A new brand DNA for the future of advanced access

The SALTO WECOSYSTEM embodies the commitment to innovation of each SALTO company and demonstrates ...

Thumbnail-Photo: ‘Problem-solving mission’ with updated Modern Store Framework...
16.02.2024   #Tech in Retail #personnel management

‘Problem-solving mission’ with updated Modern Store Framework

Zebra Technologies will be looking to address challenges with expertise and new solutions at EuroCIS

Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ: ZBRA), a leading digital solution provider enabling businesses to intelligently connect data, assets, and people, today announced it’s taking the newly enhanced Modern Store framework on a ‘problem ...

Thumbnail-Photo: New German vending partner for ITL
30.11.2023   #Tech in Retail #cash management

New German vending partner for ITL

Innovative Technology (ITL) have recently announced Bernd Boddart as their latest trading partner

Bernd Boddart will be supplying their cash validation and biometric age verification solutions to the German vending market. Bernd Boddart, based in Mönchengladbach, Germany, have 30 years of experience in the field of coffee machines, table ...

Thumbnail-Photo: Record numbers for ITL at EuroCIS retail show in Düsseldorf...
07.03.2024   #self-checkout systems #POS software

Record numbers for ITL at EuroCIS retail show in Düsseldorf

Innovative Technology (ITL) reported a successful EuroCIS in Düsseldorf last week, where the organisers announced record visitor numbers. EuroCIS provides an exclusive hotspot for Retail Technology in Europe, ...

Thumbnail-Photo: Classic POS reimagined
14.03.2024   #POS systems #printers

Classic POS reimagined

Introducing the new generation CT-S801III and CT-S851III
POS printer range.

Citizen Systems launches new CT-S801III ...

Thumbnail-Photo: iXtenso tests: REWE Pick&Go
13.03.2024   #app #customer experience

iXtenso tests: REWE Pick&Go

New test store in Düsseldorf - is the concept convincing?

REWE has launched its Pick&Go concept (on a trial basis) in Düsseldorf. We tested the store!

Thumbnail-Photo: Internal communication technology and its potential...
27.03.2024   #brick and mortar retail #video surveillance

Internal communication technology and its potential

Retailers are often faced with the dilemma of combining customer service with operational efficiency. In this intersection ...

Thumbnail-Photo: Tesco to introduce new scan-free technology on self-service tills at...
03.01.2024   #brick and mortar retail #Tech in Retail

Tesco to introduce new scan-free technology on self-service tills at GetGo store

Seamless Shopping Revolution: Tesco Tests Scan-Free Technology in London

Tesco is trialling an exciting new technology innovation that means customers don’t need to scan their items ...

Supplier

VusionGroup SA
VusionGroup SA
55 place Nelson Mandela
90000 Nanterre
Zebra Technologies Germany GmbH
Zebra Technologies Germany GmbH
Ernst-Dietrich-Platz 2
40882 Ratingen
Innovative Technology Ltd.
Innovative Technology Ltd.
Innovative Business Park
OL1 4EQ Oldham
SALTO Systems GmbH
SALTO Systems GmbH
Schwelmer Str. 245
42389 Wuppertal