As bioplastics continue to gain ground in, especially, packaging applications, the cost of these materials is starting to drop – a development that has led the BIOMAT group at the Polytechnic University School of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country to explore the use of these materials in the food packaging sector.
One of the group’s lines of research involved the development of renewable, biodegradable polymer blends aimed at enhancing the properties of the materials and cutting their costs. The group has successfully developed a new biodegradable/compostable container suitable for packaging both liquid and solid oily products. The material is derived from agro-industrial by-products, is transparent and, at the same time, provides excellent barrier properties against ultraviolet light and gases, such as oxygen. Although multilayer laminates are generally used as a barrier against gases, the product developed by the BIOMAT group has a single layer, which cuts its cost considerably. Furthermore, it can be thermally sealed and is printable.
While passive packaging systems function merely as barriers between the outside world and the product, this new container is more than a container alone. The new packaging performs an active role in the maintenance and even improvement of the quality of the food. The main function is to prolong the useful life of the packaged food through the control of permeation phenomena, either through the use of barrier materials or through the retaining of harmful substances and/or the incorporating of beneficial substances for the packaged food.
As Pedro Guerrero, researcher in Renewable Materials Engineering at the Polytechnic University School of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, explained: "In the specific case of the deterioration of the food owing to oxidation reactions, you have to bear in mind that this is a reaction started by free radicals that progress very rapidly, and this makes it difficult to control.”
To delay or inhibit this reaction, it is possible to use various strategies that act directly on the oxygen or on the species capable of reacting with it. Guerrero: “In the first case, it is possible to prevent gas entering from the outside by means of barrier materials; in the second case, it is possible to resort to the adding of antioxidants, either inside the container on in the container itself. The demand by consumers for products that do not contain synthetic chemical compounds has led to a growing interest displayed by the food industry in the development of active containers with natural additives."
The BIOMAT group has manufactured an active container with natural antioxidant agents for full-fat, fat or semi-fat cheeses, and cheese portions. The packaging makes the product last longer in a good condition, which plays an important role not only in the quality of the product but also in reducing the amount of food that is wasted. (KL)
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