Producing an adequate supply of food involves great challenges due to population growth, climate change, and increase in the price of energy. In addition, decreasing petroleum sources have led to the development of advanced bio-based materials to replace conventional synthetic plastics and to create novel environmentally compatible applications.
The packaging of food involves a delicate balance between the need to provide sufficient protection to secure food quality and safety, and using the minimal amount of raw materials and natural resources to do so. Packaging both fresh and prepared foods is also a way to reduce food waste, which would occur during transport and storage without the use of protective packaging. Indeed, the primary purpose of food packaging is to provide protection for the product. We characterize novel biobased packaging materials, such as light-weight aerogels.
The FreshTech project aims to finalize the development of an active packaging technology to tackle fresh food waste by optimising its impact at temperatures typical in the commercial environment.
Up to half of all vegetables and fruits are squandered before consumption, resulting in an annual loss of hundreds of billions of euros worldwide to distribution chain operators. Wasting valuable resources also has a significant nutritional and environmental impact globally. Losses occur throughout the food distribution chain from producer to consumer. However, approximately half of the waste is generated by retailers and consumers at the end of the distribution chain in Western countries. Transportation distances and storage times of fruits, berries, and vegetables have increased to meet growing consumer expectations on year-round availability of a wide selection of fresh produce. Post-harvest conditions during transportation and storage play a key role. New, safe, and more efficient innovations are needed to maintain the quality of products until consumption.
The new FreshTech technology improves the preservation of fresh vegetables, fruits and berries helps to maintain their quality through the production and distribution chain all the way to the consumer. FreshTech slows down ripening by preventing enzymatic reactions that lead to ethylene formation and the breakdown of cellular structures. The technology is based on controlled and continuous release of hexanal into the airspace of the packaging via enzyme-catalyzed oxidation or photo-oxidation (Figure 3). Hexanal is a compound that is produced naturally by fresh produce when fighting environmental microbes. Because of this, hexanal also slows down the growth of mold, yeast and food poisoning bacteria in fresh produce. Affecting the starting mechanisms of ripening and spoilage reactions by slowing down ethylene production, FreshTech preserves the quality of fresh produce more efficiently than currently used packaging solutions and technologies, those are sensitive to ethylene and / or microbial spoiling.
FreshTech Team: Anis Arzami, Mari Lehtonen, Maija Tenkanen, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland (Makera)
Project duration: 01/01/2022 → 31/03/2024
This project builds upon our work in the reduction of food wastage, by extending the shelf life of fresh food, through packaging.
Rapidly urbanizing society has increased the need for fresh and nutritious vegetables of high quality and extended shelf-life. Currently, up to 50% of produced vegetables are discarded before being consumed, which burdens the environment and increases CO2 emissions unnecessarily. The financial losses caused by this wastage in Europe and the US total around €200 billion annually.
FoMSci aims to reduce vegetable wastage, by extending their shelf-life, which would lead to a decrease in price and an increase in their consumption. The main reasons for vegetable waste are over-ripening, browning, and tissue degradation. Despite their major importance, the detailed mechanisms of vegetable deterioration after processing and packaging are poorly understood. The VegeSense project will identify the key metabolites involved in this process, giving a greater understanding of these mechanisms leading to vegetable quality deterioration. This will enable the advancement of packaging technologies to extend vegetable shelf-life.
VegeSense Team: Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Novo Nordisk Foundation
Project Duration: 1.1.2022 – 31.12.2026
We explore fungal biomass as a source of valuable components
REPLY team: Ida Nikkilä, Jutta Varis, Tomoko Kuribayashi, Zeynep Tacer-Caba, Pauliina Lankinen, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Academy of Finland (Academy Research Fellow project)
Project duration: 01/09/2017 → 31/08/2022
The FreshPack project evaluates potential commercialization pathways for an active packaging innovation to tackle fresh food waste.
FreshPack Team: Emmi Korjus, Kimmo Peltola, Mari Lehtonen, Elina Jääskeläinen, Johanna Björkroth, Maija Tenkanen, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Business Finland
Project duration: 01/09/2019 → 03/03/2021
With the Nordic consortium, we work towards valorizing wood hemicelluloses and nanocelluloses in advanced applications.
University of Helsinki WOOD-PRO team: Mamata Bhattarai, Hongbo Zhao, Ida Nikkilä, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Nordic Forest Research
Project duration: 01/01/2016 → 31/12/2018