In a press release published on February 22, 2016, the National University of Singapore (NUS) informs about the development of a bio-based food packaging material, “free from chemical additives” and capable of doubling the shelf life of perishable products. This material was created in the research group of Eng San Thian from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NUS’ Faculty of Engineering and has been described in a scientific paper, published online on November 20, 2014 in the peer-reviewed journal Materials Research Bulletin. It consists of a chitosan-based composite film, fortified with grapefruit seed extract (GFSE). Chitosan, derived from the shells of crustaceans such as shrimp, is a readily biodegradable natural polymer possessing antimicrobial and antifungal properties. GFSE shows antioxidant as well as “strong antiseptic, germicidal, anti-bacterial, fungicidal and anti-viral properties.” The mechanical qualities of the chitosan-based GFSE composite film are comparable to those of a synthetic polyethylene film commonly used for food packaging. In addition, this material can roughly double the shelf-life of bread samples due to its antimicrobial properties as well as the ability to block ultraviolet light, thus preventing photochemical deterioration reactions.
In the next steps, the researchers want to examine the degradability of chitosan-based GFSE polymers and characterize their antimicrobial properties and other potential effects on food quality with a bigger variety of food products. They also plan to explore the commercialization opportunities. An article by news provider Food Dive has pointed out that availability and cost of the raw materials required for production of the chitosan-based GFSE film will be key factors in assessing the commercial viability of this innovation. Thus, further research efforts as well as financial investments are necessary before food packaging based on this material can be realized on an industrial scale.
National University of Singapore (February 22, 2016). “Eco-friendly food packaging material created by NUS researchers doubles shelf-life of food products.”
Caroly Heneghan (February 23, 2016). “How researchers use shrimp shells to create packaging that doubles shelf life.” Food Dive
Phys.org (February 23, 2016). “Eco-friendly, chitosan-based food packaging material doubles shelf life of food products.”
Recyclingportal.eu (February 29, 2016). “Biodegradable food packaging material with GFSE created by Singapore researchers.”
Active and Intelligent Food Packaging Association (March 17, 2016). “NEWS: New food packing material can double shelf life of perishables.”
Tan, Y.M., et al. (2015). “Functional chitosan-based grapefruit seed extract composite films for applications in food packaging technology.” Materials Research Bulletin 69:142-146.