Scientists have developed a new clay-based packaging film to improve the shelf life of perishable foods.

The film has been coated with clay nanotubes that are packed with an antibacterial oil to prevent microbial growth in food and help keep it fresh.

A team of scientists led by Hayriye Ünal has presented the results at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) ACS.

Hayriye Ünal said: “Food packaging that is capable of interacting with food can contribute to safety and prevent economic losses from spoilage.

“Specialised films that can preserve a wide array of foods are highly sought after.”

According to the US Department of Agriculture, about 30% to 40% of food produced by farmers in the country is wasted.

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Ünal’s team worked on a polyethylene film and added ‘halloysite nanotubes’, which are small and hollow cylinders that prevent water vapour from escaping while also acting as an oxygen barrier.

"Food packaging that is capable of interacting with food can contribute to safety and prevent economic losses from spoilage."

The researchers also incorporated carvacrol, a natural antibacterial oil found in thyme and oregano, on the nanotubes and the inner surface of the packaging film.

The oil is said to kill microbes and absorb ethylene secreted by food items, such as fruit.

In a test conducted by the team, tomatoes, bananas and chicken wrapped in the new film were preserved more effectively than foods packaged in plain polyethylene.

Ünal stated that the technology still requires additional safety and non-toxicity tests. 

The research was funded by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey.

Image: Control tomatoes (left) rotted after six days while those wrapped in a new clay-based film (right) stayed fresh. Photo: courtesy of Hayriye Ünal.