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IIT-M researchers develop sustainable anti-bacterial food wrapping material

Chennai: The team from IIT Madras was recently awarded the ‘SITARE- Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (GYTI) Appreciation 2020’ for their project, and they have filed for an Indian patent.

Around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced every year. However, only 9 per cent of all plastic waste gets recycled while about 12 per cent is incinerated, according to waste management experts. An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 4, 20,000 die every year.

Elaborating on their research, Prof Mukesh Doble, Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras, said, “Our idea is to design a food wrap that will address two major issues, namely solid waste and food
contamination during storage due to bacterial growth. We have developed a biodegradable wrapping material with in-built antibacterial activity to prevent bacterial growth in stored food. The antibacterial
compound should be safe for consumption as it is approved by the authorities and does not cause any toxicity.”

The wrapping material they have developed degrades at various environmental conditions, with the rate of degradation varying from 4 per cent to 98 per cent 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,” Doble added.

The films developed by the researchers were made with polymeric blends containing starch, polyvinyl alcohol, 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.

The antibacterial agent selected is also approved by the authority for consumption, and includes eugenol, chlorogenic acid, betanin, curcumin and gallic acid among others. These compounds are used regularly in Indian food and are known to possess antibacterial, antioxidant and many other beneficial bioactivities. The compound is either immobilised on the surface or coated or mixed with polymer before preparation.