Skip to main content

A Flexible Sustainable Active and Intelligent Packaging Technology Platform Enabling Enhanced Shelf Life, Quality and Safety of Fresh Food Produce

Final Report Summary - ISA-PACK (A Flexible Sustainable Active and Intelligent Packaging Technology Platform Enabling Enhanced Shelf Life, Quality and Safety of Fresh Food Produce)

Executive Summary:
ISA-Pack aimed to develop a flexible sustainable, active and intelligent technology platform for the packaging of fresh food produce targeting extended shelf life and quality, enhanced safety and reduced food and packaging waste. Whilst suitable for a wide range of foods, ISA-Pack aimed to validate the resulting materials and technologies for modified atmosphere and stretch wrap packaging of fresh beef steak.

Overcoming key preliminary identified limitations, the ISA-Pack project aimed to:
• Develop novel unsaturated polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) copolymer materials derived from microbial fermentation of sustainable feedstocks and incorporating low volume cross linkages, demonstrating enhanced thermal stability, stabilisation of secondary crystallisation kinetics and properties suitable for high performance gas barrier and stretch film packaging applications;
• Identify synergistic combinations of active food preservation chemistries and covalent bind such functionality within the novel unsaturated PHB copolymer materials utilising reactive extrusion grafting techniques, resulting in packaging materials demonstrating enhanced material and food preservation properties and significantly reduced migration data;
• Develop an intelligent indicator system that may be printed directly onto packaging materials, combining accurate and tuneable integrated time-temperature indicators providing indirect evaluation of microbe growth, with a freshness indicator for direct assessment of lipid oxidation, thereby providing assurances of food shelf life, quality and safety;
• Investigate and optimise the processability of the novel (active) PHB copolymer materials for film and sheet extrusion and thermoform processing techniques;
• Evaluate and optimise use of the packaging materials and technologies within a commercial modified atmosphere packaging production line and in-store stretch wrap processes for the packaging of beef steaks; and to undertake a detailed performance assessment with regards to materials properties, active and intelligent functionality and associated impact on food shelf-life, quality and safety;
• Undertake a full life cycle and economic assessment for the target products, materials and processes, ensuring clear and quantified results addressing specific priority concerns of industry, retailers and the public;

Fresh food produce wastage is estimated to represent ~10% of food produced (from manufacturer to consumer). Through extension of shelf life the ISA-Pack project sought to reduce this wastage by >60%.

Project Context and Objectives:
The global packaging market is estimated to be worth over €400 billion with an annual growth rate exceeding 4%. Packaging for food and beverage is estimated to represent more than 70% of the market worth approximately €280 billion. Packaging not only provides means for food containment, protection from mechanical abuse or contamination, communication with the consumer and marketing; but also food preservation or treatment, thereby enhancing shelf life, quality and/or safety.

Sustainable Active and Intelligent Packaging seeks to combine:
• The bio-derived and end-of-life disposal properties of biopolymer materials enabling enhanced sustainability and reduced environmental impact;
• The preservative & protective properties of active packaging, enabling extended food shelf life and quality and enhanced safety;
• The informative functionality of intelligent packaging, providing assurance of food quality and safety.

By combining all three components within one system, sustainable active and intelligent packaging has the potential to achieve synergistic performance enhancements and added value benefits. There exist strong commercial and political drivers for the use of sustainable, active and intelligent packaging, including:
• Manufacturers and retailers demand for improved quality and extended shelf life of perishable food, thereby enhancing commercial value, economic return and reducing waste (improved profitability);
• Consumer & retailer demand for greater information and assurance of food safety and quality;
• Political and consumer demand for improved sustainability and lower environmental impact throughout the food and packaging value chain (reduced food and packaging waste).

Such advanced packaging systems offer greatest benefit for fresh perishable (short shelf life) foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, fruit, vegetables, dairy, bakery, ready meals etc…; and in particular those food groups (fresh meats, poultry, fish etc…) that may be contaminated with harmful pathogenic bacteria which can lead to food borne illness and even death. Whilst the fundamental principles of packaging systems incorporating sustainability, active food preservation or intelligent functionality have been demonstrated, a number of critical limitations remained that prevented their widespread take up throughout the food and packaging sectors.

With the vision to overcome these limitations, the ISA-Pack project aimed to develop a flexible, sustainable, active and intelligent technology platform for the packaging of perishable fresh food produce, targeting extended shelf life and quality, enhanced safety and reduced food and packaging waste. Whilst suitable for a wide range of food packaging applications, the project sought to apply and validate the resulting materials and technologies for the modified atmosphere packaging and in-store stretch wrap packaging of fresh beef steaks. Through extension of shelf life the ISA-Pack project sought to reduce retailer supply chain wastage of fresh food produce by 75%.

Project Results:
The ISA-Pack work programme was divided into eight main work packages, whose focus moves from Phase 1 to 3 , integrating technical (WP1-5), application driven (WP6) and commercial objectives (WP7-8) of the project. Each work package represented a major scientific and technical objective as summarised below:

• Development of novel biodegradable unsaturated PHB copolymer materials suitable for high performance packaging applications (WP1).
• Development of PHB copolymer materials incorporating (graft) synergistic active functionality (WP2)
• Investigation and optimisation of the processability of the novel PHB copolymer materials utilising extrusion and thermoforming techniques (WP3)
• Development of accurate intelligent indicator chemistries for integrated time-temperature and lipid oxidation/freshness (WP4)
• Development of the indicator ink systems enabling direct printing of the indicator systems (intelligent functionality) directly onto the packaging materials (WP5)
• Integration, application and performance analysis of the novel ISA-Pack systems (WP6)
• Conduction of a full life cycle and economic assessment for the target products, materials and processes (WP7)
• Protection and management of knowledge, dissemination and exploitation of the project results (WP8)

The main scientific and technical achievements delivered by the project are listed below:

• Development and optimisation of techniques for the effective production of PHB copolymers via bacterial synthesis.
• Successful production of a range of PHB copolymers and full characterisation of their properties.
• Long term stability assessment of commercial PHBV –additives blends demonstrating a slowdown of the secondary crystallisation process but not a complete inhibition.
• Identification and development of potential routes for grafting of identified antimicrobials to PHB copolymers.
• Development of a reactive extrusion process and subsequent blending process towards the formulations of PHB copolymers incorporating active antimicrobials with the functionalities to inhibit bacteria growth.
• Successful industrial scale up of the PHB formulations compounding process.
• Scale up from a laboratory to an industrial machinery of extrusion processes for the materials formulations developed and production of films and sheets.
• Development of an injection moulding process for the production of trays from the MAP packaging materials formulations developed.
• Successful formulation, printing optimisation and performances evaluation of a Time-Temperature indicator giving excellent performance in terms of adhesion on a wide range of substrates and validated correlation with the life time of a beef steak. UK patent application submitted.
• Successful formulation, printing optimisation and performances evaluation of a freshness indicator with a demonstrated correlation with the lifetime of a beef steak.
• Successful set-up and printing optimisation and performances assessment of the TTI and freshness indicators on an existing meat packaging production line.
• Assessment of the ISA-Pack materials and indicators performances through intensive physical, chemical and biological testing.
• Assessment of end-user opinion, and perception of the indicators (Time-Temperature and freshness) performance, quality and functionality through consumer evaluation studies.
• Completion of a full life cycle, economic and societal assessment for the target products, materials and processes.
• Development of detailed exploitation plans for the three ISA-Pack technology groups as standalone technologies: a) Sustainable active packaging for food with antimicrobial functionality and stretch wrap film, b) Time-Temperature indicator (TTI), c) Freshness indicator.

Potential Impact:
The ISA-Pack project aimed to develop sustainable biopolymer materials suitable for use within oxygen permeable stretch wrap and modified atmosphere packaging of beef steaks. The materials aimed to incorporate high efficacy combined/synergistic active functionality enabling a significant extension of food shelf life and quality (>9 days and >15 days shelf life for stretch film and MAP packaging respectively) and preventing growth of pathogenic microorganism. Furthermore the packaging materials aimed to incorporate advanced intelligent functionality thereby providing assurances not only of food safety but also quality (freshness).

The ISA-Pack technology platform addresses key commercial drivers, delivers added value for both food and packaging industries, and addresses key political and consumer concerns (reduce waste, enhanced sustainability etc…), thereby ensuring rapid commercial take-up by both industry and end-users.

The potential impacts of the expected ISA-Pack results can be summarised as follow:
• Reduced waste due to longer shelf life (for the retailer and the consumer)
• Sustainable packaging with lower environmental consequences, driving consumer demand
• Improved food safety via accurate and reliable indication systems, also driving consumer demand
• Improved competitiveness for the European packaging and food industry
• Creation of commercial opportunities for SMEs operating in the packaged foods supply chain
• Financial retailer benefits will drive increased use of active, intelligent and sustainable packaging

A number of dissemination activities have been undertaken in order to publicise the ISA-Pack project:
• Website: The ISA-Pack project has a dedicated website, which can be located at www.isapack.eu. The website includes a “news and events” page to inform the public of the main technological achievements and dissemination events at which ISA-Pack has been represented.
• 16 events including packaging industry conferences, technical seminars, technical committee representation,
• 4 international trade fair presentations and displays in Barcelona (Spain), Shanghai (China), Madrid (Spain) and Birmingham (United Kingdom)
• 47 press/publication placements
• 16 events covering - conferences, exhibition, technical seminar, packaging interest groups, seminars with major food producers/retailers
• 6 papers published / pending
• TV coverage
• Social media dissemination using Facebook and Twitter
• Networking contacts including:
-CYTEC (Umeco) Derbyshire UK: specialty material and chemical technologies in bio-polymers.
-CMB Colorex The Netherlands; developer and manufacturer of master batches and compounds for the bio-plastics processing industry.
-Innovia Films: leading global producer of speciality high performance films for food packaging including bio-materials development.
-TMO Renewables: manufacturer and developer of bio-materials.
-TerraVerdae BioWorks, USA: engineers of performance biomaterials those are simultaneously waste-derived, bio-based and biodegradable for a range of markets worldwide.

Within the constraints of IP protection briefing materials were prepared and presented to support contact and discussions with potential supply chain participants and material developers who may wish to take-up the developed project.

Finally, separate dissemination and exploitation plans were drawn up for the three ISA-Pack technology groups as standalone technologies:
o Sustainable active packaging for food with antimicrobial functionality and stretch wrap film
o Time Temperature indicator (TTI)
o Freshness indicator
A number of review meetings and conference calls were undertaken to collate data and information and document the plans.

Mr Ian Hay
Project Coordinator
The UK Materials Technology Research Institute
Nottingham Road
Melton Mowbray
Leicestershire LE13 0PB
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)1664 501 372
Email: ian.hay@uk-matri.org