Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created a new packaging material that is claimed to double shelf-life of food products.
The new environmental-friendly material has been developed by fortifying natural chitosan-based composite film with grapefruit seed extract (GFSE).
Chitosan is a natural and biodegradable polymer that is derived from the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans. It offers biocompatibility, non-toxicity and high film-forming ability.
Scientists said that chitosan has inherent antimicrobial and antifungal properties, while GFSE is antioxidant and possesses strong antiseptic, germicidal, anti-bacterial, fungicidal and anti-viral properties.
The chitosan-based material has no chemical additives and can slow down fungal growth in perishable food such as bread. It acts as a barrier against ultraviolet light, slowing down the degradation of food products as a result of oxidation and photochemical deterioration reactions.
During laboratory experiments, the shelf-life of bread samples packaged with chitosan-based GFSE composite films was found to be two times longer than those packaged using synthetic packaging films.
NUS associate professor Thian Eng San said: "Increasing attention has been placed on the development of food packaging material with antimicrobial and antifungal properties, in order to improve food safety, extend shelf-life and to minimise the use of chemical preservatives.
"Consumers are also demanding that packaging materials be formulated from natural materials that are environmentally friendly and biodegradable while improving food preservation. This novel food packaging material that we have developed has the potential to be a useful material in food technology."
The team of researchers will continue to explore chitosan-based GFSE films's degradability and conduct an accelerated shelf life study to examine the extent of microbial growth and quality changes during storage of various food products.
The team also has plans to explore opportunities to commercialise the composite film as a packaging material.
Image: Commercial chitosan is derived from the shells of shrimp and other sea crustaceans, including Pandalus borealis, pictured here. Photo: courtesy of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.