The food industry spends approximately $84 billion a year on food packaging and processing. It is beneficial to both the consumer and the food industry to use food packaging methods that are both functional and cost effective. Plastic packaging has become an important environmental problem as it is excessively used, difficult to recycle and has a high volume/weight ratio. The environmental impact can be minimised by improving packaging structures, selecting materials and following established regulatory guidelines. The EU-funded SVARNISH (Varnish development with antimicrobial, oxygen and water vapour barrier properties and improved physic-mechanical properties, to be used in food industry) initiative aimed to use nanotechnology to improve the oxygen-, antimicrobial- and moisture-barrier properties of current food packing. The researchers aimed to reduce the environmental impact and production costs of such packaging by simplifying traditional multilayer structures for easier recycling. SVARNISH worked on reducing the use of laminated multilayer films with a single varnish formulation that can be easily applied to a variety of substrates. The researchers developed a varnish formulation with a high barrier to oxygen and water that will allow shelf-life extension of foods. Importantly, SVARNISH chose component materials based upon safety and performance when applied to the film substrate. The researchers used polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) and essential oils with antimicrobial oxygen and water vapour barrier properties to overcome limitations of traditional food plastic materials. A dispersed nanocomposite varnish formulation was developed and optimised for flexible printing technologies for food packaging application. Also produced, a varnish layer that provides enhanced barrier properties usually found in multilayer packaging, while being cheaper to produce and easier to recycle. Once the packaging for food quality and safety was evaluated, SVARNISH tested prototypes to determine which foods can be packaged using the new product. The researchers tested a PET material with varnish on chicken breast fillet and found significantly reduced bacterial growth. SVARNISH discovered that adding varnish to monolayer material for bakery products positively affected the texture and to some extend the odour of the product. Ultimately, SVARNISH's structurally simple and eco-friendly packaging could positively impact the environment by reducing material use and food waste.
Varnish, food packaging, SVARNISH, barrier properties, shelf-life, safety