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Anti-fungal compounds offer natural shelf-life boost alternative - researchers

By Mark Astley , 16-Mar-2012

Researchers are working to develop a method for extending the shelf-life of products such as cheese, cakes and pastries using natural anti-fungal compounds to meet consumer demands.

Spain-based research company Tecnalia is investigating the development of a new system of active protection for processed cheeses, cakes and pastry products through the selection of natural anti-fungal compounds - additives that avoid or delay the growth of fungus in food products.

The aim of the study is to develop a method that meets consumer demands - using natural compounds that don’t affect organoleptic properties while boosting shelf-life.

Tecnalia are one of several partners in the project, including the Spanish Institute of Plastic Technology (AIMPLAS) and the National Centre for Food Technology and Safety (CNTA).

Researchers will investigate three different strategies: the direct inclusion of the compounds in the polymeric matrix of the packaging material, its use as a coating on the material and by applying it as an edible coating to food product.

Natural additives

Project leader Dr Maria Carmen Villarán told FoodProductionDaily.com that the use of anti-fungal and anti-microbiological elements is a common practice to increase shelf life, but many are synthetic.

“The shelf-life of several food products including processed cheese, cakes and pastries can be modified for microbiological reasons. To avoid these problems, some alternatives have been used; thermal treatments, modified atmospheres, or the addition of chemical additives,” she said.

“However, these technologies do not produce a final product with all the properties desired by a consumer; natural products, with good organoleptic properties and long shelf-life.”

“So, the objective of this research is to increase the shelf-life of this kind of food products by developing a new system of active protection, avoiding the use of synthetic additives.”

“There are natural and synthetic anti-fungal compounds. In this project our objective is the use of natural compounds, organic or inorganic,” Villarán added.

Edible coating

Natural compounds will be applied to packaging and food under all three strategies – of which the direct inclusion of compounds in packaging material has arisen as the most suitable option, according to Villarán.

She added that there have already been difficulties applying the compounds as a coating with compounds losing their anti-fungal properties during the packaging process.

“In order to avoid these problems and guarantee the properties of these compounds after the packaging development, the encapsulation of these compounds is proposed in the project.”

“These encapsulation technologies will be also applied in the project not only to avoid the losses of properties in these compounds, but also to avoid some interactions with the food.”

“On the other hand, the edible films will be a good alternative because they can be applied after the processing of foods, avoiding some thermal treatments that can produce the degradation of some active compounds that can be added to the edible coating. And these natural compounds usually are sensible to the temperature,” she said.

She added that the research is at a very early stage, leaving it difficult to indicate the potential boost to shelf-life through these developments.

Tecnalia intend to have the first prototypes available in 2013, with testing likely to continue until the end of 2014.

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