One part of the project is to create novel packaging made from biodegradable materials sourced from organic agro-food by-products or traditional packaging materials such as polypropylene (PP) polyethylene (PE) incorporating the eco-friendly options.
To improve barrier properties, natural additives, filler and nanomaterials (natural antioxidant extracts, cellulose-based bionanocomposite, nano-silicates and edible nanolaminate coatings), are being investigated.
They are also attempting to produce a nanomaterial-based sensor array that can gain information on the quality of the product and use NFC (Near-field communication) technology to inform the consumer via mobile phones.
The SusFoFlex (Smart and Sustaniable Food Packaging Utilizing Flexible Printed Intelligence) project is coordinated by Oulu University of Finland with fourteen research organization from eight different countries.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are the initial targeted focus with extension to meat and fish possible in the future.
It aims to increase and improve the shelf-life of the packaged food using materials with improved barrier and antioxidant properties, so that food losses are reduced because shelf-life is extended and information on the product provided via the sensor array.
The consortium is a three-year European Project under the 7th framework that focuses on the development of novel, sustainable and intelligent food packaging solutions.
Dr Geza Toth, project coordinator, said the project has been interesting and challenging so far.
“It will provide manufacturers with the possibility to enhance their packaging to keep the product fresher for longer.
“For example, a Spanish company could reach the UK, which they are not able to do now, with the logistics of getting the product on the shelf. Maybe they can only reach Spain and France but not a far distance – this project will provide the packaging and join the market.”
He said grapes could be one source of the biodegradable materials from agro-food by-products.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) has limitations and issues concerning barrier, thermal, light and mechanical properties but nanoadditives are being investigated to complement these, Toth added.
Smart label tech
Talking about the smart label and emphasising VTT’s role, he said: “The smart label will provide information on the packaged food and the sensor array will inform when the food is going off.
“I believe our smart label is more complex, it will do the basic such as temperature and freshness by colour change and then transfer information to digital information and store it to monitor and process the product if it is exposed to heat in the supply chain.”
Achieving pilot scale of hundreds of packages is the end goal of the project with several active industrial members in the consortium already testing proposed methods.
Toth also called on the EU to encourage more interaction between similar projects running concurrently so that consortiums can work together and better results could be achieved.