Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Coating foods to prolong shelf life

The improvement of the safety and quality of ready- to-eat foods is of major interest to both the consumer and the food industry. Research has been carried out into the development of edible protective films and coatings for foods. These are applied directly to the surface of a food product and protect against microbial spoilage and loss of intrinsic product quality. The coatings are fully biodegradable (unlike many plastic packaging materials) and create a modified atmosphere around the product, (eg a carrot or fruit). Wheat gluten, pectin or beeswax, with alcohol as solvent, are examples of materials that can be used as coatings. Obviously the coatings must be clear (not opaque) and flexible; they must also be resistant to breakage and abrasion and so the composition of the film-forming solution is important. The permeabilities of the coatings to oxygen and water vapour can be manipulated to fall within the ranges of the conventional plastic packaging materials which means that the conditions within a prepack can be reproduced around individual units of food product (ie a cocoon-like effect). The edible coatings are conducive to the use of natural antimicrobials or antioxidants as these can be included in the coating and are concentrated at the produce surface which is the place where protection is needed. This means that only very small amounts of additives are required. Aspects currently being researched in this project include the rate of diffusion of preservatives through coatings prepared from pectin and other polymers and also the microbial and physical stability of the coatings themselves.

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