Spanish technology centre seeks to extend food shelf life

A technology centre in Spain is investigating ways to extend the shelf life of certain food products by developing new packaging and edible coatings.

The researchers believe that processed cheeses and cake pastry products can be preserved if anti-fungal compounds made from natural plant extracts and essential oils are used in the packaging process.

The team from Spanish technology centre Tecnalia plans to use three different strategies to investigate where the anti-fungal compounds are most effective. These include incorporating the compound within the packaging; applying it as a layer to the inside of the packaging; and applying it directly onto food products as a coating.

These techniques, collectively known as ‘active packaging’, protect food from chemical and physical reactions that cause it to go off.

Carmen Villarán, of Tecnalia’s Health Division, told The Engineer: ‘Active systems can absorb some of the less-desired substances, such as oxygen, excess water and ethylene. Other active systems release interesting substances [such as] antioxidants and flavours.

‘In other words, the primary function of active packaging is to deliver desirable substances and remove undesirable substances from the product.’

Villarán explained that this approach could remove the need for using additives and preservatives in food.

The team is looking to develop a solution that does not require significant modifications to be made to the machinery that is currently used to produce packaging. It anticipates that this will be a particularly challenging obstacle to overcome but it believes also that its research could lead to further innovation in the food and plastics sector.

Tecnalia is working with the Spanish Institute of Plastics Technology (AIMPLAS), the National Centre for Food Technology and Safety (CNTA), plus several Spanish companies on the project.