NUS researchers create new biodegradable packaging material

The eco-friendly composite film which is made from natural ingredients can double the shelf life of perishable food.
Channel NewsAsia 22 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created a biodegradable packaging material that can double the shelf life of perishable food, like bread.

While the eco-friendly composite film is similar to the plastic used in cling wrap or ziplock bags, it is actually made from natural ingredients like grapefruit seed extract and chitosan, a biomaterial derived from the shells of crustaceans.

The inherent properties of these materials slow fungal and bacterial growth.

The researchers plan to conduct further studies to improve the technology.

"Next, we will test on the anti-microbial properties of the film, anti-bacterial properties, and also a degradation study,” said Ms Tan Yi Min, a PhD candidate in the National University of Singapore’s Mechanical Engineering Department. “Then we will carry out an extended accelerated shelf-life study on various food products such as red meat, dairy products, as well as seafood."

The group hopes to commercialise the film, with the support of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology.

However cost is a hurdle, as the researchers said the film is about 30 per cent more expensive than plastic films that are currently used.

Ms Tan explained: "The chitosan material is not commonly used for manufacturing in the industry, so the cost is slightly higher than synthetic polymer films. However, with its anti-microbial properties being able to extend the shelf life of food products, we can minimise food wastage, thus extending to an increase in cost-savings and protection for our environment."

- CNA/ek

Longer shelf-life for food thanks to breakthrough in packaging tech
CLIFFORD LEE Today Online 23 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Food products that last longer in their packaging, with little, or no chemical preservatives needed — that is the promise of a breakthrough in packaging technology made by two National University of Singapore researchers.

Associate Professor Thian Eng San from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Ms Tan Yi Min, a PhD student, have developed an environment-friendly food packaging material that slows down fungal and microbial growth, and is free of chemical additives.

The researchers took a naturally microbial-resistant and biodegradable composite film based on chitosan — a renewable material derived from crustaceans’ exoskeletons — and combined it with grapefruit seed extract to enhance its antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

Bread samples packaged with this composite film was found to last more than three times longer, compared with those in conventional synthetic packaging film, where visible mould appeared after three days.

With the composite film, mould growth started on the 10th day.

With this new material, there is no need to use silver ions to give it anti-microbial properties — as is the current practice on packaging films — since there is a small possibility of the silver leeching into the food, which can be harmful if accumulated in large amounts in the body.

Food manufacturers will also be able to cut back on chemical preservatives when using the composite film.

More studies will be done using the film with other products such as meat, seafood and dairy. If proven commercially viable, Assoc Prof Thian hopes the material will be used in three to five years.

Ms Tan sees the wider benefit: “(In) being able to extend the food products’ shelf life, we can minimise food wastage, (leading) to an increase in cost savings and protection for our environment.”

In 2014 alone, Singapore generated 788,600 tonnes of food waste, the equivalent of about two bowls of rice per person a day, contributing to more than 10 per cent of total waste. Plastic waste, including food packaging, rose to a high of 869,000 tonnes.

The National Environment Agency estimated that the recently expanded Semakau landfill would be filled by 2035.

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