Nano-film Packaging for Fruits
A new type of nano-film packaging for fresh produce is being tested to lengthen shelf-life and cut down post-harvest losses, SciDev reports.
Researchers from Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) are collaborating with TNAU in India, the University of Guelph in Canada and the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) in Sri Lanka, as well as MYRADA, an NGO which is based in India. The researchers are engaged in a 30-month project that kicked off this March. It is centered on a new type of nano-film that reportedly has the ability to extend shelf life of fresh produce by up to 21 days.
The nano-film contains an artificial version of hexanal, an agent that targets an enzyme in fresh produce responsible for deterioration. Hexanal is already used by some farmers in other countries to extend shelf life of produce, SciDev reports. But in countries with hot climates like India hexanal sprays are not a practical choice, as hexanal evaporates more quickly than in colder or more temperate climes.
Sri Lankan scientists who are part of the project plan to embed the synthetic agent in natural wax which will be used in nano-film coating of the produce.
If successful, the nano-film coating is expected to lessen the heavy losses of post-harvested fruits, particularly in India. K. S. Subramanian, a professor at department of nanoscience and technology in TNAU, states in an interview that at the least 40% of harvested fruit inIndiais lost due to want of cold storage as well as cold chain facilities to store fresh produce in.
But whether the new nano-film packaging will take off in this area remains to be seen, especially as concerns about its environmental impact are still unresolved and its exact health and environmental effects undetermined.
Nanoparticles’ effect on the environment is a loaded topic among environmentalist and scientific communities. The field of research on nano-ecotoxicology is still considered young at present. Intentionally engineered nanoparticles are seen to have the most risks due to the “unknowns” of both the benefits and potential hazards they possess.
Studies on how the nano-film coating will behave in the natural environment after they have been thrown out with the rind or peelings are particularly important. Equally important as well are their potential effects on health. There has been a lot of reaction to the use of artificial coatings on fresh produce to lengthen their shelf life. “Edible invisible packaging,” modified atmospheric packaging (MPA), and “intelligent” films are seen by many as unwanted components to their fresh and organic produce. A variety of ingredients such as shellac and paraffin included in these artificial coatings are seen as particularly undesirable. The new nano-film coating, with its added issues of nano-particle concerns, may encounter even stronger uncertainty from the public.
Sustainable solutions to challenges like these might work as well if not better than synthetics-dependent approach that is seen in many aspects of modern life. After all nature has been solving problems like self-assembly and timed degradation long before humans did, and without destroying the environment that supported them. It might pay in the long run to take a second look now, before we take our ultra-modern technology to conform our environment to our desires and convenience.
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