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IIT-M develops wrapping material to improve shelf life of Food

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Madras) researchers have developed a biodegradable wrapping material, with a built-in anti-bacterial compound to prevent food contamination, and to reduce plastic waste.

Their project won the ‘SITARE- Gandhian Young Technological Innovation Appreciation 2020’. The researchers have also filed for a patent.

Mukesh Doble a professor and Puja Kumari, a research scholar in the Department of Biotechnology led the team.

Mr. Doble said the design would address the issue of solid waste and food contamination during storage due to bacterial growth. The antibacterial compound used in the material is approved by the relevant authorities and does not cause toxicity, he said.

“The wrapping material we have developed also degrades at various environmental conditions. The degradation rate varies from 4 to 98% in 21 days. The wrapping material degraded rapidly in moist conditions when compared to dry ones. Hence, our wrapper is eco-friendly and can play a major role in plastic waste reduction,” he explained.

The wrappings were made with polymeric blends containing starch, polyvinyl alcohol and cyclic beta glycans (CBG). The composition was optimised to achieve the best film with a smooth texture, flexibility, uniform thickness and good clarity. The polymers used are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The antibacterial agent selected includes compounds such as eugenol, chlorogenic acid, betanin, curcumin and gallic acid, which are used regularly in Indian food and are known to possess antibacterial, antioxidant and many other beneficial bio-activities. The compound is either immobilised on the surface or coated or mixed with polymer before preparation.

Ms. Kumari said the team tested its performance by wrapping paneer (cottage cheese), meat and chicken. The samples were placed in 4oC and 30oC for 10 days.

“Our study found 99.999% reduction in bacterial colonies was observed in the food samples wrapped with our antibacterial wrap and stored at 30oC for 10 days when compared with a plain wrapper. This study also suggests that our antimicrobial wrapper can, to some extent overcome, the reduced availability of cold storage units. Paneer is known to have a very low shelf life (less than 7 days) and hence extending its shelf life is a major advantage,” she said.

Generally, bacterial growth is higher when food is stored at 30oC when compared to storage at 4oC.

Mr. Doble said the team was looking for funds to scale-up the process and test the product with more food samples. “We also need to compare the mechanical properties as well as the cost of the developed films with commercial products in the market,” he explained.

Annually around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced and only 9% of all plastic waste is recycled, while around 12% is incinerated. An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill and around 4.2 lakh die annuallyafter eating contaminated food.