Nanocoating could be used to extend shelf life

Nanocoating may sound like a high-tech, sci-fi concept far beyond the understanding of the average person. But it really is quite simple, and the food safety implications of using nanocoatings on fruits could benefit the industry greatly.

As its name implies, nanocoatings are incredibly thin layers that coat an object in order to serve a chemical or physical purpose, like to protect or make more resistant to water, for example. They can be applied to all sorts of surfaces, both organic and inorganic. Usually they are just several nanometers thick — that’s just a few billionths of a meter.

Food industry experts could use nanocoating to extend shelf life of perishable products, therefore reducing the risk of food waste and lost profits, while also potentially introducing additional nutrients to the consumer.

Recently, scientists in South Korea found success in using a plant-derived sprayable nanocoating to prolong the shelf life of fruits.

“Nanocoating technologies are still in their infancy, but they have untapped potential for exciting applications,” said Insung Choi of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. “As we have shown, nanocoatings can be easily adapted for several different uses, and the creative combination of existing nanomaterials and coating methods can synergize to unlock this potential.”

Mandarin oranges with the coating remained edible after being stored at 77°F for 28 days, while 27% of uncoated oranges stored at the same temperature became rotten and moldy. A similar test was conducted with strawberries, where again the majority of strawberries remained edible after 58 hours. Only 6% of unsprayed strawberries seemed safe to eat.

The coating used in this case was around five nanometers thick. Derived from plant-based polyphenols combined with iron ions that can be naturally found in the body, the coating is totally safe for consumers to eat under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulations.

Nanocoating is not totally new to the food industry, where discussions have been ongoing for years on how it can be used on equipment, food contact surfaces or even beverage cans to help them be more resistant to corrosion or bacteria growth.

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