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Credit: Disease Biophysics Group/Harvard SEAS

Inspired by battlefield medicine, scientists have developed an antimicrobial food wrapper that reduces food waste and foodborne illness

Inspired by battlefield medicine, scientists have developed an antimicrobial food wrap that reduces food waste and foodborne illness

As food costs continue to rise and the global food crisis looms, it is surprising to think that about 30-40 percent of America’s food supply ends up in landfills, mostly due to spoilage. Read also : New York State Law to Reduce Hunger and Food Waste – Food Tank. 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 was a way to package fresh food that could extend its shelf life and eliminate microbial contamination?

Now, researchers from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has developed a biodegradable antimicrobial food packaging system that does both.

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

The research was published in Nature Food.

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From the battlefield to the farm

Surprisingly, the new food packaging 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), is designed specifically for this purpose.

The RJS works like a cotton candy machine — a liquid polymer solution is fed into a reservoir and pushed out through tiny holes by centrifugal force as the device rotates. See the article : In depth: The future of food. As the solution leaves the reservoir, the solvent evaporates, and the polymer hardens to form fibers, with controlled diameters ranging from the micro to the nanoscale.

Rotary Jet-Spinning coats the avocado in a thin pullulan fiber.

Credit: Disease Biophysics Group/Harvard SEAS

The idea to translate research from wound dressings into food packaging was born out of a collaboration with Philip Demokritou, former co-director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology (NanoCenter) at Harvard’s Chan School. NanoCenter is a joint initiative between Harvard and Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.

“It turns out that wound dressings serve the same purpose, in some ways, as food packaging — to support tissue, protect it from bacteria and fungi, and control moisture,” said Huibin Chang, postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and first author of the book. paper.

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

The researchers dissolved the pullulan polymer in water and mixed it with a variety of natural antimicrobial agents, including thyme oil, nisin, and citric acid. The solution is then spun in the RJS system and the fiber is deposited directly on the food ingredients. The researchers demonstrated the technique by wrapping avocados in pullulan fibers. The result resembles a fruit wrapped in a spider’s web.

The research team compared their RJS wrappers with standard aluminum foil and found a substantial reduction in contamination by microorganisms, including E.coli, L. innocua (which causes listeria), and A. fumigatus (which can cause disease in immunocompromised individuals).

“The high surface-to-volume ratio of the coating makes it easier to kill harmful bacteria because more bacteria are in contact with the antimicrobial agent than in traditional packaging,” said John Zimmerman, postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and co-author. of paper.

The team also showed that their fiber wrap increased the shelf life of avocados, a notoriously finicky fruit that can go from ripe to rotten in a matter of hours. After seven days in the laboratory, 90 percent of unwrapped avocados rotted while only 50 percent of avocados wrapped in antimicrobial pullulan fibers rotted.

The wrapper is also water soluble and biodegradable, rinses without residue on the surface of the avocado.

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Making food more sustainable

This antimicrobial and biodegradable food packaging system is not the Disease Biophysics Group’s first attempt to make our food supply systems more sustainable. This may interest you : Researchers develop antimicrobial, plant-based food package designed to replace plastic: Starch-based fibers improve protection and reduce damage.

Parker’s group has used their RJS system to grow animal cells on an edible gelatin scaffold that mimics the texture and consistency of meat. The technology is licensed by Tender Food, a Boston-based startup that aims to combat the meat industry’s enormous environmental impact by developing a new generation of plant-based alternative meat products that have the same texture, taste and consistency as real meat. .

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

“One of my research group’s long-term goals is to reduce the environmental footprint of food,” says Parker. “We have done this by building more sustainable food to now package food in a sustainable way that reduces food waste.”

This study was co-authored by Jie Xu, Luke A. Macqueen, Zeynep Aytac, Michael M. Peters, Tao Xu and Philip Demokritou.

It is supported by the Nanyang Technological University–Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Initiative for Sustainable Nanotechnology, under project number NTUHSPH 18003; Harvard Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS), member of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure Network (NNCI), supported by the National Science Foundation under NSF award number 1541959; and the Harvard Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, with grant numbers DMR-1420570 and DMR-117754.

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How can plastic packaging be improved?

Follow these simple tips to improve the sustainability of plastic packaging:

  • Reduce the Use of Plastic Packaging Materials. …
  • Increase the Use of Recycled Plastic Content. …
  • Eliminate Disposable Packaging If Possible. …
  • Applying Bio-Based Plastics. …
  • Use Sustainable Adhesives.

What is the solution for plastic packaging? Packaging produces the most plastic waste of all sectors. Brands are investing in new ways to package their products. Alternatives to plastic include laser-engraved vegetables and engineered cardboard. There is also a growing emphasis on how containers can be reused and recycled.

How packaging can be improved?

Automating the packaging process reduces material consumption and increases production. Use a padded mailing bag. Small parts can be packed in padded mailing bags instead of corrugated boxes to reduce raw materials even more. Use a molded fiber wine shipper.

How can disposable products be prevented?

Take reusable bags with you to the grocery store, mall, drugstore, and anywhere else you shop. Take a reusable mesh cotton bag to the grocery store for produce. Bring a reusable cup with you when you travel for coffee, water or your favorite beverage! Avoid using a plastic stirrer for your coffee.

How can we prevent single-use plastic? Invest in products that can be reused multiple times to avoid buying single-use plastics. Instead of using a Ziploc bag, take your lunch to work in a Tupperware case. Instead of buying plastic water bottles in bulk, buy reusable bottles that can be refilled throughout the day.

What food packaging is not recyclable?

plastic cereal box, bubble wrap, clear plastic wrap, several department store bags, potato chip bag, single cheese wrap, 6 plastic wrap and candy wrapper.) Dirty plastic bottles and bags.

What types of plastic cannot be recycled? While plastics 1 and 2 are easily recyclable and accepted in most roadside trash cans (such as beverage bottles and detergent bottles), plastic number 3—or PVC—is not recyclable. Then there are the 4-7 plastics (including grocery bags, certain food containers, and disposable coffee cups), which are very difficult to recycle.

What is not suitable for recycling?

You should not recycle packaging that contains hazardous products – or in other words, flammable, corrosive or toxic products. Examples include oil paint, motor oil, fuel, poison, or medical waste. If these items are empty, and all that’s left is the packaging, then throw it in the trash.

How do you know if food packaging is recyclable?

Know Your Code! On most plastic bottles, containers, and other packaged products, you’ll find the chasing arrow triangle universal recycling symbol. Inside the symbol, there are numbers ranging from 1-7. Although manufacturers use the recycling symbol on their products, not all plastics are recyclable.

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