Enhancing Food Safety with Biodegradable Materials and Natural Oils in Packaging

January 19, 2024

Growing concerns about plastic waste and the increasing demand for high-quality, preservative-free food have spurred a collaborative effort between researchers from Malaysia and Indonesia. The team sought eco-friendly alternatives in food packaging to combat the environmental threat posed by non-biodegradable plastics.

In response to this pressing issue, the research team has introduced a promising solution that combines Polylactic Acid (PLA), Chitosan, and Turmeric Essential Oil (TEO). The urgency of shifting towards biopolymer-based food packaging arises from the alarming presence of plastics in natural ecosystems, which are now considered emerging contaminants with harmful effects like high concentration, extensive dispersion, and non-biodegradability.

The primary objective of this study was to explore the potential synergies between turmeric essential oil and chitosan in enhancing the antimicrobial properties of environmentally friendly polymers, particularly in the context of food packaging. The focal point was addressing critical food safety concerns related to bacterial contamination.

At the heart of this biodegradable material lies Polylactic Acid (PLA), renowned for its moisture-preventing properties and established safety for packaging purposes. The introduction of Chitosan, recognised for its potent antibacterial capabilities and TEO from turmeric, significantly augments the material’s resistance to bacteria.

Professor Dr Tezara Cionita, from INTI International University’s Faculty of Engineering and Quantity Surveying, emphasised the breakthrough’s significance, stating, “In tests against bacteria, it was discovered that Polylactic Acid, in conjunction with chitosan and turmeric essential oil, effectively resisted bacterial growth even after prolonged exposure to open air for 12 days.”

Professor Dr Tezara Cionita and her research team have discovered the potential of the PLA-chitosan-TEO biofilm in combating germs within food packaging, showcasing the effectiveness of inventive blends comprising biodegradable materials and natural essential oils.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of food packaging in safeguarding products from external factors like microorganisms, moisture, and UV light, Chitosan-derived natural food packaging emerges as a promising solution with potential benefits, particularly for melons. It not only enhances product quality but also inhibits the growth of harmful microbes.

Prof. Dr Tezara further elaborated, “Turmeric essential oil, owing to its non-toxicity, biocompatibility, and strong antibacterial and antioxidant properties, along with other natural essential oils, are ideal candidates to replace commonly used food preservatives. Using essential oils in active packaging is a cost-effective strategy to mitigate food safety hazards.”

She added, “Furthermore, incorporating natural essential oils into active packaging can protect packed food from oxidation, contamination, spoilage by microbes, and harmful free radicals. Antimicrobials influence the ability of packaging materials to shield food from bacterial exposure, thereby extending shelf life and preserving product quality.”

The study shows that the biofilm made of PLA-chitosan-TEO has excellent potential in fighting harmful bacteria. However, the study also acknowledges that the biofilm is fragile, and there is a need to determine the optimal concentration of chitosan when used in food packaging.

This research is an important step towards sustainable and eco-friendly food packaging. It addresses the urgent environmental concerns related to plastic waste and promotes food safety using biodegradable materials and natural essential oils. The collaborative efforts of the research team demonstrate their commitment to a greener and healthier future in the field of food packaging.