The shelf-life of fresh produce sold in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) could be substantially extended if a £3.15M EU-funded research project proves successful.
The project, launched last January, which forms part of the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), aims to develop "sustainable, active and intelligent" packaging for fresh produce derived from microbes, according to partners involved with the research. It offers the potential to eliminate up to 75% of fresh produce that is wasted before being consumed, they say.
The project, called ISA-Pack, will use microbes to produce a novel polyhydroxybutyrate polymer that will be used to form stretch-wrap films with gas barrier sheets, said Lynneric Potter, a packaging specialist at research organisation Campden BRI, one of the project partners. "It will be a polymer made from sustainable sources that can be engineered through modifying molecular links to adapt it to the properties required," she explained.
The material would be used to make MAP, which would be combined with an active system for extending shelf-life, such as an anti-microbial coating or oxygen absorbing sachets, Potter added.
Intelligent indicator labelling systems such as time/temperature indicators and freshness indicators would also be used. These would show whether the package had been stored outside of its required temperature range and how fresh the product is through colour changes on the label, she said.
The packaging concept will be tested initially on beef steaks, but it is hoped the prototype could be extended for use across a wide range of fresh produce including meat, fruit and dairy, Potter added.
The project, which involves 10 EU organisations, is coordinated by the UK Materials Technology Research Institute (UK MatRI), a branch of Pera Technology. As well as UK MatRI and Campden BRI, other UK members include the University of Birmingham, Biopac sustainable packager and Domino Printing Sciences. It is backed by nearly £2.42M FP7 funding as well as £726,000 from the partners.
Once complete, the partners plan to scale-up the prototype for use by industry, said Marie Cook, project manager for ISA-Pack at UK MatRI. She said: "The most complex part will be optimising the microbial fermentation process that produces the polymer and then modifying the produced polymers to attain the desired packaging."