Biodegradable containers made with corn proteins

A group of researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (USA) and Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) have developed new biodegradable packaging made from corn proteins, specifically with zein, a protein known for a few years and presented as an alternative to petroleum derivatives that does not require any treatment for recycling.

Experts comment that this compound can release small amounts of antibacterial elements in response to the presence of moisture and bacteria, allowing extend the shelf life of fresh fruit up to three more days than traditional plastic packaging. In addition to zein, the packaging is also made up of naturally-derived biopolymers and the so-called bacterial compounds from a mixture of natural oils, such as thyme essential oil.

Another feature of the new packaging is its ability to withstand exposure to different types of environments and their durability, which makes them of interest to the food industry. Experts comment that the development of efficient, environmentally friendly and non-toxic materials for food packaging is one of the most effective ways to improve food safety and the shelf life of food. As we know, extending the useful life of food entails reducing food waste, for this reason and for years we have been working on the development of new packaging and not only using proteins from corn, but also from milk, algae, eggs, etc.

In this new work, the researchers explain that they have developed scalable systems to synthesize intelligent antimicrobial materials, which can be used, not only for improve food safety and quality, also to eliminate damage to the environment and health, as well as promote the reduced use of non-biodegradable plastics and the promotion of sustainable agri-food systems.

Several tests have been carried out with the new packaging, exposing it to increased humidity and harmful microorganisms, showing that the fibers of the packaging release antibacterial compounds to kill fungi and bacteria such as E. Coli or Listeria monocytogenes. In an experiment carried out with strawberries, the new packaging managed to keep this fruit fresh for seven days before mold began to form, this is three days longer than with the plastic boxes that are usually used in the marketing of strawberries. But not only can it be used with fruits, it is suitable for any food product that is fresh, such as raw meat, vegetables and others, offering the same extended shelf life.

The research group hopes to be able to reach an agreement with an industrial partner to be able to commercialize the container in the coming years, and at the same time it is working on other technologies to develop packaging materials based on biopolymers that allow improving the safety and quality of food. Anyway, it must be said that currently there are solutions that offer protection and a longer shelf life, such as the Aura Pack packaging, edible and invisible coatings such as Edipeel, etc.

You can know all the details of the investigation through this article posted on the Nanyang Technological University page.

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