A research team from Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in Muscat, Oman has developed a new packaging solution using nanotechnology in an effort to extend shelf life of Okra.

Commonly grown in Oman, okra is one of the most heat and drought resistant species in the world.

The vegetable has a limited shelf life and it gets contaminated by fungi and bacteria.

Flexible plastic films used to package vegetables do not possess antimicrobial properties and as a result they cannot prevent growth of bacteria and fungi.

Food packaging with antimicrobial properties has greater ability to prevent microbiological decay of food products, the study noted.

Sultan Qaboos University Marine Science and Fisheries department researcher Dr. Laila Al-Naamani developed a novel nanocomposite antimicrobial packaging.

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She conducted the research under the supervision of Dr. Sergey Dobretsov from SQU’s Centre of Excellence in Marine Biotechnology and the Royal Institute of Technology KTH, Sweden professor Joydeep Dutta.

“Flexible plastic films used to package vegetables do not possess antimicrobial properties and as a result they cannot prevent growth of bacteria and fungi.”

The study, titled ‘Nanocomposite Zinc Oxide-Chitosan Coatings on Polyethylene Films for Extending Storage Life of Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)’ was recently published in a peer review high impact factor Nanomaterials journal.

As part of the research, Dr. Al-Naamani incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles into chitosan and coated polyethylene films to fabricate antimicrobial packaging.

Chitosan is a linear polysaccharide produced from chitin, which is available in shrimps and crabs’ shells.

The objective of the study was to test the efficiency of the nanocomposite zinc oxide-chitosan antimicrobial coating for the preservation of vegetables.

The test results showed that the bacteria count reduced by more than 60% when the okra is stored in packaging with nanocomposite coating.

Furthermore, the fungal concentrations in okra stored in the nanocomposite coating were found to be two times less than those samples stored in packaging containing chitosan only.

The study team also noted that the coating helped in maintaining moisture and physical and chemical properties of stored okra.