Oxidation, fungi and pests: new packaging keeps food fit for consumption longer



In the FOOD-REDUWASTE project, supported by IVACE, ITENE has developed various packaging solutions for nuts, pasta and rice, red fruits and vegetables.

Oxygen, ethylene, fungi and insect pests are just some of the agents that can deteriorate food. To avoid this, the ITENE researchcentre has developed new packaging for nuts, rice, pasta, cereals, red fruits and vegetables that absorb or release certain substances in order to keep food fit for consumption for a much longer period.


These advances in the development of so-called "active" packaging have been made possible thanks to the FOOD-REDUWASTE project, supported by the Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness (IVACE) through ERDF funds. As a result, compartmentalised trays and trays made from cellulose materials have been obtained, as well as flexible film either for making bags, lidding film for rigid packaging or flowpack type packaging (bag sealed by triple seam in the shape of a pillow).


These containers allow the useful life of the food to be extended, whose deterioration over time is mainly due to the action of living organisms (bacteria, fungi, insects, etc.), the physicochemical action of the environment (temperature, relative humidity, oxygen, etc.) and the biological activity of the food itself (enzymes, respiration, stress, etc.). This deterioration implies the loss of its nutritional value and organoleptic characteristics and compromises its microbiological safety, leading finally to its removal and disposal.

In the case of insect infestation, a multilayer extruded film with a chemical pest repellent has been developed for flowpack, bag or lidding film applications to contain products such as cereals, pasta, rice or nuts, and could even be extended to the packaging of animal feed.


For those foods that are susceptible to oxidation, such as nuts, a compartmentalised tray has been developed to contain active substances capable of absorbing the oxygen present in the head space of the package (internal volume of a package that is not occupied by the product), so that this does not affect the levels of oxidation of the product.

The active substance in question is incorporated in the lower compartment of the tray, while the food is in the upper part. The tests showed that two of the substances tested are capable of absorbing oxygen, exhibiting behaviour and oxygen removal capacity comparable to some commercial absorbers.


Finally, to extend the shelf life of packaged fruit and vegetables, three different types of packaging have been developed that are capable of absorbing ethylene or inhibiting or delaying the growth of fungi, as some fruit and vegetable products, such as strawberries, red fruits and tomatoes, among others, are particularly sensitive to this type of alteration.



Thus, one of the prototypes developed consists of a compartmentalised tray capable of absorbing the ethylene present in the head space of the container. The second prototype consists of a compartmentalised tray that releases an anti-fungal active substance. Thirdly, work was carried out on a cardboard package with bio-based active coatings in which, with one of the formulations, a slight improvement in the appearance of the fruit studied was observed due to reduced fungal growth on the surface of the product.

The packaging solutions developed in FOOD-REDUWASTE do not alter the mechanical properties of the packaging materials with respect to conventional materials, maintain appropriate transparency for consumer acceptance, do not alter sealability and are competitive in terms of costs, as well as maintaining the quality and extending the shelf life of the packaged products, thus reducing food waste.


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