In the past on the film blog, we’ve talked about how antimicrobial film could extend the shelf life of food. Along those lines, researchers are developing better ways to tell consumers when that shelf life has expired. Researchers at McMaster University are developing a polymer film treated with DNA molecules, which they call DNAzymes, to display when food is expired or not good to eat. These DNAzymes would react with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, and through a phone app, consumers could see these reactions. This film is simply laser-printed onto the polymer level, and has potential applications in the medical field to determine whether equipment is sterile for use.
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Scientists from the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science have developed a prototype film that could protect Australia’s fragile Great Barrier Reef. This thin film would sit on top of the ocean to protect the coral below from the sun. Lab tests have shown that this film blocks up to 30% of sunlight passing through, though it hasn’t yet been tested on a large scale above the reef. Warming temperatures and water pollution have been killing off the algae living in coral, causing them to “bleach”. This bleaching process is made more dire by continued sunlight. This film would protect the coral and potentially reverse the bleaching process, if it proves to be successful.
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The European Union-funded NanoPack Project has had a successful first round of laboratory testing, which is very good news for the future of food packaging. The project is aiming to develop antimicrobial polymer film, which can fight off toxins in food from growing and developing. In one test, scientists who used the film on bread inoculated with mold spores were able to completely prevent the mold from growing any further for nearly four weeks. While the tests so far have only been performed on bread, scientists are confident that this antimicrobial polymer film will be able to achieve the same results with other types of food.
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A collaboration between Russian and Italian researchers is working on a new biodegradable polymer film that could potentially offer an environmentally friendly alternative to current films. Using a material called polyhydroxybutyrate, this new experimental film can break down over a time period of one month to one year. The material is already found naturally, so there’s already some precedent for the material degrading in a natural ecosystem. A key part to this material is the permeability, which allows it to properly protect food and helps it to degrade later on. While there’s still work to be done on this project, the early results suggest that polyhydroxybutyrate would be good for plastic films.
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Modifications to plastic films are now allowing them to fight bacteria, making them more suitable for restaurant use. Researchers at the University of California Davis have modified the existing film polymer structure in order to contain N-halamines, a mixture of nitrogen and chlorine. These N-halamines were proven during their testing to kill harmful bacteria, including Listeria and E. coli, two of the most common foodborne pathogens. This development will allow these films to continuously sanitize foods, even during times when the producers of the foods are unable to.
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New developments with degradable polymers are allowing medicine to be given to patients through contact lenses instead of traditional eye drops. Researchers believe that in many cases, using the contacts will be a better solution for patients than eye drops. The contacts can hold a greater dose of dexamethasone, which helps to fight inflammation in the eyes, as compared to drops. In addition, the slow dissolution of the medicine in the contact lenses allows for more gradual doses of medicine, whereas in eye drops, all of the medicine comes at once. On top of all of those benefits, the degradable polymer contacts are cheaper to develop compared to existing solutions.
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A multinational team of researchers has developed a polymer film which features pores that can change shapes and sizes. Porous polymer membranes currently have a wide variety of applications, including portable electronics, as we reported here back in November. This new film can change the shape of its pores through UV light. In the experiment, the researchers were able to use UV light to change round pores into other shapes, such as rectangles. Even after repeated tests, the pores were still able to switch shapes back into their original configurations. This technology has the potential to be used in new electronics and purification and filtration systems in the future.
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International companies Krehalon and Dunbia have developed a new, single-polymer variation of food packaging that should make the entire waste product easier to recycle. While most film seals use a polyethylene film seal, researchers were able to change it so that the entire package can now be made of an amorphous polyethylene terephthalate, or APET. Normally, the bottom hard plastic is the sole APET part. With this new technology, the same APET material can be used in the film as well, using the same manufacturing equipment as before. The companies believe that having a single material between the two parts of the food packaging will help encourage consumers to recycle the entirety of the package.
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The European Union has announced a new initiative to cut back on single-use plastic packaging, aiming to have 55% of all plastics recycled by 2030. Part of the plan includes investing 350 million Euros in research to help achieve that goal. Already, the plan has received a mixed reaction. Some believe that the plan will help to fuel innovation in the packaging industry, encouraging materials that can be more easily recycled to fit that goal. Some companies, including Pack2Go, have said that this initiative fits in with their internal goals of creating more sustainable packaging. Critics of the plan believe that it doesn’t go far enough to eliminate plastic waste, saying that it doesn’t effectively respond to public pressure about plastic waste. Regardless of the reaction, the steps in place could lead to further innovations in plastic packaging and the food market.
Proctor & Gamble’s laundry detergent brand Tide has been seeing increased attention lately because of problems with people eating their Tide Pods. These products are concentrated detergent wrapped in a plastic film, and have been a very strongly performing project since being launched in 2012. However, various Internet memes involving videos where people eat these detergent pods have become increasingly shared across social media, leading to widespread misinformation. The company has taken steps to reduce the likelihood of this happening, as the products could be confused for a wrapped candy. Some of these enhancements include child-proof containers and an unappetizing coating that would deter people from eating a detergent pod. While none of this is foolproof, Proctor & Gamble hopes to reduce the likelihood of chemical poisoning through such measures.
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Bryan Hauger Consulting, Inc.'s Film Team features experts in everything from flexible packaging to failure analysis.