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Development of a new functional antimicrobial edible film for fresh meat products

Final Report Summary - MEATCOAT (Development of a new functional antimicrobial edible film for fresh meat products.)

Executive Summary:
The main scope of the MEATCOAT Project is the development of a new functional antimicrobial edible coating for meat packaging that can improve the integrity and safety of fresh products and replace part of the less efficient and recyclable plastic packaging used today. In addition, the proposed system will be able to increase shelf-life of every single product due to their antimicrobial characteristics.
The proposed project aims at helping mainly the big community of SMEs that compose the fresh food industry (and particularly fresh meat sub-sector), to recover part of its declining competitive advantage by developing a new concept of edible coating that enables a better preservation and quality of meat products and a longer shelf life in the market.
Secondary, this project will also benefit two other sectors dominated by SMEs: the coating manufacturers (in especial food coating producers), who need new products to launch to the market, and the food retailing and restaurant sectors. The former is mainly made up of SMEs and high added value (knowledge-based) innovative products can provide them with a sufficient competitive advantage to remain competitive and support their growth. The latter has both large and small business but the small the ones that are more suffering due to deficiencies of present packaging systems.
All these communities represent mature sectors in Europe, they create annual revenues valued in about €40.5 B and require continues effort in research and development in order to get new process and products that make able to differentiate in a very competitive market in order to attend the consumer demand with increasing level of quality exigency.
A huge amount of fresh meat is disposed every-day from market selves. Better ways of preservation would avoid this and produce huge saves in the full supply chain. In addition, there exists significant social, political and legislative pressure to develop new products based on renewable sources that can replace present oil-based plastics whose recycling activity is not yet sufficiently efficient and cheap. EC legislation is trying to curb the landfill disposal of recyclable or non-recyclable plastics arriving today to land fields, by encouraging the development of new products replacing recyclable or non-recyclable plastic packaging, as MEATCOAT proposes with a natural coating that can help in reducing the use of plastic packaging.
Regarding environmental issues, several European Environmental regulations are in place, which are heavily influencing packaging development in the EU. The Packaging Directive 2004/12/EC sets out recycling and recovery targets to be met by 2008. As a result there are high levels of innovation in green packaging including lightweight and bio-based packaging materials. On the other hand, all new developments and innovations in the packaging industry will have to meet the current European standards and regulations for food contact materials, safety and public health (Regulations EC1935/2004, EC2073/2005 and EC 450/2009), as well as the requirements of the REACH -Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals- legislation. This fact arises as one of the main challenges of this project.
MEATCOAT has developed an innovative edible bio-based packaging system with antimicrobial properties to extend the shelf life of fresh meat products. The creation of a protective skin film barrier on the food surface slow down the oxidation processes and avoid the bacterial growth in the meat surface, enabling an enhanced preservation and quality of the food and safety in the consumer. This edible film is developed mainly natural renewable compounds which constitute an inexpensive and reliable source of raw material for the formulation of edible coatings

Project Context and Objectives:
The aim of this project is to help three large European sectors dominated by SMEs (Fresh Meat Producers, Retailers-Wholesalers, Food Ingredients Manufacturers) reverse their declining competitive trends by developing a new edible coating with antimicrobial effect and high barrier properties. The new compound will cover the unmet needs of the three mentioned industrial sectors by:
- An alternative product to conventional packaging systems for the food production and processing sector a demand that has been strongly acknowledged by all the stakeholders of the sector .
- A better preservation of meat products and a longer shelf life in the market for particularly small retailers.
- A new high-added value (knowledge-based) product that can provide some members of the European coating sector with enough competitive advantage to compete with leading US companies and brands in world-wide arenas

The aim of MEATCOAT project is to develop an antimicrobial edible coating directly applied to the fresh meat or meat products, providing a substantially longer shelf life to the meat and complying with the following requirements:
- Total cost of packaging materials cheaper that present solutions (saving outer multilayer film and controlled atmosphere gas compensates the extra price of the edible coating for packed meat, and prolonged shelf life compensates by far the use of the coating and the spraying system on retailers and restaurants).
- Usable or integrated with present equipment (controlled atmosphere equipment).
- Avoid organoleptic modifications to the food (i.e. transparent, inodorous, unflavoured or interact chemically with the meat enzymatic components, etc.

Project Results:
Scientific Objectives:
• Some self-assembly peptides and natural proteins have been suitable ingredients for the elaboration of edible coating formulations
• Hydrogels have been prepared with self-assembled sequences and natural proteins blended with biopolymers for the production of edible composite coating.
• Optical and mechanical characterization tasks of complex hydrogels and edible composite films were optimized.
• It has been identified a list of suitable additives to improve properties of edible coatings such like mechanical and gas barrier properties. Several components have been tested to study the effect on the properties of edible coating: proteins, polysaccharides, plasticizers, barrier enhancers, emulsifier, antioxidant, antimicrobial, gelation aids, crosslinking agents, etc. A good compatibility of the components and additives has been achieved
• Edible composite films preparation procedure has been settled and optimized.
• Coating application on meat surfaces has been studied and analyzed. Formulation showed good compatibility with spray application method.
• It has been raised the scientific comprehension of the effect of this edible peptide based shelf assembly hydrogel, and composites thereof, on microorganism’s growth, oxidative stability, package gas concentration and other shelf life factors for fresh meat packaging.
• It has been measured the effect on microbiological growth of active edible coatings intended for the use on fresh meat.
• Sensory implications of coating have been assessed. How the coating treatment is altering the organoleptic profile of raw meat was studied

Technological Objectives:
• .- The obtained formulation have good mechanical properties, film forming properties and proper water and oxygen gas permeability. The coating has moisture barrier properties
• .- The developed edible film has antimicrobial activity against common bacteria that provoke the meat spoilage such as Pseudomonas, Brochothrix Thermosphacta or Enterobacteriaceae. The provoked log reduction (CFU/g) on these microorganisms is in the range of 1-2 log units for Pseudomonas and bigger than 2 log units for the rest (even 5 sometimes)
• .- The developed material was able to increase the shelf-life of the product for 3 days compared with conventional meat packaging. Nevertheless, extension of shelf life is dependent on several factors like initial microbial load, good manufacturing practices, storage temperature, etc. It is not discarded that in optimal condition a 5 days extension of shelf life could be achieved
• Meat that has been treated with MeatCoat coating is almost identical to reference untreated meat. Small increment in gloss was only noticed. Thanks to the preservative effect of the coating, sensory attributes remain unaltered longer (sensory decay is postponed)
• Meat coating can be efficiently achieved by means of spray application in a very affordable way.

Potential Impact:
The initial purpose of the foreground was accomplished. The research project resulted in a formulation with:
- Mechanical properties such as tensile strength, Water Vapour Transmission Rate (WVTR), and Oxygen Transmission Rate (OTR).
- Antimicrobial properties against spoilage micro-organisms MEATCOAT is an active coating due to the antimicrobial character of the film, with excellent mechanical and barrier properties to oxygen and water vapour and adhesion properties, substantially extending the shelf life of fresh meat and meat preparations.
Features differentiating MEATCOAT edible coating from other off-the-shelf products are:
- Antimicrobial and antioxidant properties: the edible coating has been tailored regarding microbial contamination depending on the meat (beef) on the food surface. Besides, MEATCOAT presents barrier properties against oxygen and water vapour.
- Visually appealing: transparency is a crucial factor to satisfy customer’s preferences and ensure product sales. Hence, MEATCOAT is colourless.
- Preserved Sensorial attributes: MEATCOAT does not modify odour, taste and colour of foodstuffs.

- The new edible film is biodegradable according to the requirements of the Directives 94/62/EC and 2004/12/EC.
- Reduce the associated cost of waste management and recycling taxes due to the reduction of plastic packaging used at wholesale and retailing stages. MEATCOAT will replace one or more films of current multilayer films to alleviate the weight of the packaging and the generated plastic materials used. The replacement of conventional multilayer films has an important environmental value due to the fact that they are prepared with different polymer that can be processed again.
- Competitive price as compared to current plastics materials presently found in the market. Total cost of packaging materials cheaper than present solutions (saving outer multilayer film and controlled atmosphere gas compensates the extra price of the edible coating for packed meat, and prolonged shelf life compensates by far the use of the coating and the spraying system on retailers, butchers and restaurants).
Besides the new MEATCOAT coating will be usable or integrated with present equipment used in meat packaging: controlled atmosphere equipment, plastic flexible packaging, intelligent packaging, etc.
Edible coatings are not new, in particular in the fruit and vegetable sector. The novelty of MeatCoat is to cover all possible objectives in one coating, which was accomplished:
- Preservation against microbial growth,
- Oxidation,
- Water retention,
- Packaging
- And being edible.

Impact of MeatCoat solution:

# Functionality: The edible coating will present antimicrobial properties, edibility, biodegradability, bio-based, will not impart taste, odours and colour to the coated surface and will form a resistant coating for fresh meat.
# Usability: The product will be easy to use when applied to carcasses and large meat pieces that bring no packaging or protection today. On large-scale packaging lines, the proposed technology will just add a simple sprayingstep just before placing on the try or sealing with film. At the retailer and restaurant, spraying a medium-sized bulk meat piece everytime a fillet is cut out will be easier and faster than the present practice of wrapping with a new piece of cling film.
# Economics: Because of the antimicrobial characteristics of the coating, it will be possible to prolong the shelf life of the product, reducing the packaging process and the use of plastics materials and complementary techniques such as MAP packaging. In addition, MEATCOAT products will save associated costs to the management of plastics residues generated in current packaging technology.
# Societal: The use of the achieved edible coating will allow to reduce the total amount of intoxications, deaths and associated hospital costs due to the treatment of diseases due to the consume of contaminated fresh meat and meat products.
# Environmental: The use of edible coating for fresh meat preservation presents two main advantages to be considered regarding environmental concerns, the first one is the fact that the use of these edible coatings will allow to use a less amount of flexible plastics in the final package, Meatcoat will not need of current multilayer systems, therefore a less CO2 generation will achieved due to the non
use of those plastics; in addition, the environmental will be preserved of contamination due to the biodegradability of the product, the management of generated residues will assure that any impact can be caused to the environment

Dissemination activities
Two workshops, various brochures, posters, a video clip, oral presentations and several press releases have been prepared during the project life, being actively disseminated by the members of the Consortium on events deemed relevant and targeting in special potentially interested SMEs.

List of Websites:

Emilio San Martin
Centro Tecnológico de la Industria Cárnica de La Rioja (CTIC)
Ctra. nacional 120, Km 22,8, 26315, Aleson (La Rioja)