New Food Contact Materials Currently Molding the Industry

New Food Contact Materials Currently Molding the Industry

By Gonzalo Delgado

In the search of new properties for food contact materials, scientists try to meet the needs of both industry and society. A major focus has been on reducing the ecological impact of the nowadays ubiquitous plastics, and looking for safer materials that do not need the use of plasticizers and other toxic additives. Hence, the reduction of carbon footprints has become a global goal. Current research seeks to produce plastics derived from renewable biomasses, called bioplastics, thus avoiding synthetic polymers derived from non-renewable resources, mainly oil and gas.

Chitosan-Based Bioplastics

One of the most promising bioplastics is composed of chitosan, which is obtained from chitin, the polysaccharide which crustaceans’ -shrimps and crabs- exoskeletons are made of, and the second most abundant organic material found in nature, after cellulose.

The main advantages of using the chitosan-based bioplastics include the abundance of the raw material, and its short biodegradability time. Together, these two factors represent a major environmental step forward. In addition, chitosan is non-toxic and possesses antimicrobial and antifungal activities. This bioplastic is also soluble in slightly acidic water, allowing to manufacture films very easily since no thermal extrusion is required. All these characteristics are advantageous in the food packaging industry.

A recent innovation in this field comes from Professor Thian’s lab at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Researchers at NUS have produced a chitosan composite film with enhanced antimicrobial and antifungal properties by combining it with a grapefruit seed extract. During the tests, this composite film was used to package bread, and it protected the bread from mold growth for up to 10 days. This was more than three times longer than conventional synthetic packaging film, where visible mold appeared after 3 days. According to Professor Thian, these packaging films are safe and can be used with organic foods. Currently, more studies are being done using this film with other products such as meat, seafood, and dairy. It will take few years until we see this revolution in food packaging in grocery stores.

LiquiGlide Slides Into the World Of Food Packaging

In some cases, scientists can discover a technology and the application of it emerges later down the road. This is the case of LiquiGlide. LiquiGlide was developed at MIT and is a non-stick coating that allows viscous liquids like ketchup, mayonnaise or honey to actually slide on the container’s surface. Indeed, when the researchers showed this effect in a YouTube video, it went viral. This coating technology consists of two layers: a textured (porous) solid and an impregnating liquid, which create a permanently wet surface that dramatically reduces sticking. Essentially, different materials in the layers can be tailored for each specific application, and in the case of food, FDA-approved materials can be used, making it a safe product.

The end of thwacking ketchup bottles can also represent a reduction of tons of product waste and water used to rinse bottles before recycling, both very positive in terms of sustainability. We are likely to see products using LiquiGlide in the near future: In 2015, the company signed agreements with Elmer’s (US glue brand) and Orkla (Norwegian food brand) to implement the technology in their bottles.


To read more about other interesting advances and inventions in the food industry, be sure to check these out:

The Potential of 3D Printing in the Food Industry

Scientists Develop Biofortified Rice with High Folate Stability

A Natural Dairy Thickener with Probiotic Potential

How Nice Fruit Achieved the Impossible: Fresh Frozen Fruit



Functional chitosan-based grapefruit seed extract composite films for applications in food packaging technology. Tan YL et al. Materials Research Bulletin 69 (2015) 142–146.

Image Courtesy of the Varanasi Research Group.

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