The indiscriminate use of petroleum-based packaging materials has resulted in a significant accumulation of plastic in landfills and the ocean. These materials have low degradability and are not adequately recycled. In response to this pressing issue and the growing demand for environmentally friendly and health-conscious products, the food industry is actively investing in the development of sustainable packaging alternatives. These alternatives need to not only preserve the nutritional quality of food but also maintain its organoleptic traits, such as color, taste, smell, and texture.
An innovative example of sustainable packaging is a film made from a compound derived from limonene, a primary component found in citrus fruit peel, and chitosan, a biopolymer extracted from crustacean exoskeletons. This film was developed by a research group in São Paulo, Brazil, consisting of scientists from the Department of Materials Engineering and Bioprocesses at the State University of Campinas’s School of Chemical Engineering (FEQ-UNICAMP), and the Packaging Technology Center at the Institute of Food Technology (ITAL) of the São Paulo State Department of Agriculture and Supply.
The findings of this research are detailed in an article published in the scientific journal Food Packaging and Shelf Life. “We chose to focus on limonene because Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers of oranges, and São Paulo is the leading orange-producing state,” explained Roniérik Pioli Vieira, a professor at FEQ-UNICAMP and the last author of the article.
Limonene has previously been used in food packaging films due to its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. However, its effectiveness is often hindered by its volatility and instability during the manufacturing process, even on a small scale. This poses a challenge for the use of bioactive compounds in commercial packaging, as they tend to degrade under high temperature and shear rate conditions. To overcome this issue, the researchers developed a derivative of limonene called poly(limonene), which demonstrated improved stability and suitability for large-scale production.
The researchers combined chitosan with poly(limonene) to form the film matrix. Chitosan is a natural polymer known for its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. The aim was to create a film with enhanced bioactive properties. Through polymerization, a process that involves the formation of polymers from smaller organic molecules, the researchers successfully combined the two materials in varying proportions. They conducted extensive analyses on the resulting film, evaluating its antioxidant capacity, light and water vapor protection, and resistance to high temperatures.
The results were highly promising. “The films with the poly(limonene) additive outperformed those with limonene, particularly in terms of antioxidant activity, which was approximately twice as potent,” Vieira shared. The substance also exhibited satisfactory performance as a UV radiation blocker and was found to be non-volatile, making it suitable for large-scale packaging production, where processing conditions are more stringent.
Although these films are not yet available for commercial use, mainly due to the limited production scale of chitosan-based plastic, the research group is actively working on optimizing the poly(limonene) production process to improve yield and feasibility in commercial packaging manufacturing. “Our group is investigating other applications of poly(limonene) in the biomedical field, showcasing its multifunctionality as a renewable additive,” added Vieira.
Sayeny de Ávila Gonçalves et al, Poly(limonene): A novel renewable oligomeric antioxidant and UV-light blocking additive for chitosan-based films, Food Packaging and Shelf Life (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.fpsl.2023.101085
Research group develops biodegradable film that keeps food fresh for longer (2023, July 17)
retrieved 17 July 2023
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Shambhu Kumar is a science communicator, making complex scientific topics accessible to all. His articles explore breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines, from space exploration to cutting-edge research.