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Active Packaging Innovations Include Edible Coatings and Nanotechnology

Active packaging can help reduce the burden of food waste, and brands are developing several innovative examples of the technology.

Food waste burdens companies, consumers, and the climate
Food waste burdens companies, consumers, and the climate
Getty Images

Food waste can be a significant burden on company profits, consumers’ wallets and the health of the climate. Advances in active and intelligent packaging, defined as packaging that includes features to extend shelf life or monitor freshness, offer a chance to tackle the issue.

Angela Morgan, director of business development at Aptar, stressed the impact food waste has on all stakeholders at the AIPIA Smart Packaging Summit, which took place Oct. 25 at PACK EXPO International in Chicago. 

About $400 billion is lost to food waste before products even reach the market each year, she said, or about 14% of all food produced. This wasted food is also a lost humanitarian opportunity. According to Morgan, 690 million people are hungry and 3 billion cannot afford a healthy diet.

On the environmental front, “food lost in waste if it were its own country would be the third largest source of greenhouse gasses behind China and the United States,” Morgan said.

Antimicrobial Active Packaging

One technology that offers an array of solutions to help cut down on food waste is antimicrobial packaging. 

Aptar’s InvisiShield is a three-phase polymer that uses chlorine dioxide to protect produce from pathogens. The technology is integrated into sealed packaging with “channels in it that will release in a controlled way that chlorine dioxide gas into that headspace of the pack in order to extend the shelf life, reduce food waste and make the product safer,” Morgan said.

The Antipack from Handary is a commercial film that uses a coating of nisin to inhibit mold growth on solid food products like cheeses. Another mold inhibitor from SoFresh uses ethyl pyruvate. 

“It can either be spray coated inside a bag or extruded, and it inhibits mold in bread,” Morgan said.

The UltraZap XtendaPak from Novipax extends the shelf life of produce by using carbon dioxide. The product is placed inside the package to wick juice away and generate carbon dioxide to inhibit microorganism growth, according to the Novipax website.

Bite Into Edible Coatings

Edible coatings are invisible to the consumer, but can increase shelf-lifeEdible coatings are invisible to the consumer, but can increase shelf-lifeGetty ImagesEdible coatings are applied directly to the product using spraying, dipping or brushing, and “you really can’t even tell that the coating’s there,” said Morgan. “It’s protecting but it’s really invisible to the consumer.”

For gas barrier protection, polysaccharides stemming from seaweed or the chitosan layer on insects are an ideal solution, said Morgan. Protein coatings derived from corn, soy or wheat also make great oxygen barriers, she added.

And finally, the hydrophobic nature of lipids makes for an effective moisture barrier. Brands can use a blend of these methods to create an optimal edible coating for specific products. Akorn Tech is one example of a protein coating, using a “corn coating with other plant-based ingredients” to preserve produce, Morgan said.

Also on the market is Apeel, which uses the acids from natural peels and stems for produce protection.

Active Packaging with Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology holds its own place in active packaging, while sometimes intermixing with other categories. 

One example is Copptech, which uses nanoparticles including copper to produce antimicrobial textiles. Another is Danaflex-Nano, which makes a flexible pack with a rigid top that uses silicate nanoplates to extend shelf life. 

“It’s lighter weight, fully recyclable and it can be thermally processed and reheated in the microwave, so it is shelf stable,” Morgan said.

The European Union is funding a project to continue advancing the use of nanotechnology packaging. The three-year NanoPack project aims to develop antimicrobial packaging solutions for perishable foods based on natural nanomaterials.

Scavenging Technologies

Oxygen scavenging is an established active packaging category that already has several innovative examples in use.

Carlsberg’s ZerO2 cap is a scavenging technology placed in the liner of the beer brewer’s bottle caps, according to the company’s site. The liner actively absorbs oxygen to prevent beer from spoiling.

Fruit Brite by Hazel Technologies uses ethylene in its scavenging, making it ideal for produce that is climacteric, or ripens quickly after harvesting, Morgan said.

SavrPak is a moisture scavenging sachet that prevents soggy food. “That one became really popular during the pandemic because people were ordering a lot of food that was ready to eat,” said Morgan.

Indicators Built Into Packaging

Indicators are a wide ranging category with several key functions depending on the product, from time temperature indicators to gas sensors.

Morgan said RipeSense is a great example of a gas sensing indicator. She cited its use with pear packaging, where it “indicated the crispness, when you should actually be consuming that pear for it to be at its optimal ripeness.”

A newer technology in this space is pH indicators. Using a milk application as an example, Morgan said this technology can indicate lactic acid bacteria production, “and so it will change color from pink to purple when the milk is starting to sour.”

The MonitorMark from 3M is one example in the realm of time temperature indicators. This product monitors the product’s exposure to a range of temperatures over set times, with an adhesive backing for application to secondary packaging.

Varcode digitizes time temperature indicators with Smart Tag. Users can scan a barcode-based temperature tracker using their phone, and track the temperature changes over time through an app.

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