SQU researcher invents novel nano-composite antimicrobial packaging

Nano-composite coating reduced the number of bacteria by more than 60 per cent (Supplied photo)

Muscat - 

Packaging plays a critical role in food safety and quality as it  protects against environmental conditions which may cause contamination and pose a danger to humans. A researcher from Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) has now come up with a new novel nano-composite antimicrobial packaging that will help in extending the shelf life of vegetables grown in the country.

Dr Laila al Naamani, a researcher from the Department of Marine Science and Fisheries at SQU, has invented a novel nano-composite antimicrobial packaging. Her work was supervised by Dr Sergey Dobretsov,  Centre of Excellence in Marine Biotechnology, and Prof Joydeep Dutta, Royal Institute of Technology KTH, Sweden. The discovery, titled ‘Nano-composite zinc oxide-chitosan coatings on polyethylene films for extending storage life of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus),’ was recently published in the peer review high impact factor Journal of Nanomaterials. The study was conducted together with researchers from the Centre of Nanaotechnology at SQU in collaboration with the Food and Water Laboratory Centre in the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources.Nanotechnology is manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular and supramolecular level. Nanotechnology allows the creation of new materials with novel chemical and physical properties. During the investigation, Dr Laila incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles of 100nm size into chitosan and coated polyethylene films to fabricate antimicrobial packaging. Chitosan is a linear polysaccharide produced from chitin - a major component of shrimps and crab shells usually discarded as waste.The researchers tested the efficiency of the nano-composite zinc oxide-chitosan antimicrobial coating for the preservation of vegetables. Locally grown okra pods were stored in the package with or without novel nano-composite coating. The results demonstrated that the nano-composite coating reduced the number of bacteria by more than 60 per cent compared to okra stored without it. Moreover, the nano-composite coating showed a two-fold reduction in fungal concentrations in okra compared to the samples stored in package with chitosan only. Additionally, the novel nano-composite coating helped to retain moisture and physical and chemical properties of stored okra. This work proved that the nano-composite zinc oxide-chitosan antimicrobial coating not only maintains the quality of the packed okra but also, prevents growth of microbes significantly. Overall, this study demonstrated that nano-composite zinc oxide-chitosan antimicrobial coating can be used as a potential coating material for active food packaging applications.

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