Can you tell me the basis of NanoPack and its antimicrobial packaging solutions? What are some examples of how it’s used?
In the NanoPack system, naturally-occurring mineral nanotubes are dispersed in plastic packaging films, and fixed there so they don’t come into contact with the food. These nanotubes hold natural essential oils extracted from plants like oregano and thyme. The essential oils have antimicrobial properties – this means they are capable of slowing down or stopping microbes from multiplying. The oils are slowly released as a vapour from the films into the packaging headspace. When inside the package they kill or slow the growth of the bacteria and moulds that can make our food go off. NanoPack is developing customized food packaging for a range of food products, including: bread, fresh meat and fish, dairy, and fruits and vegetables.
Does the packaging have any visible differences?
No, there are no visible differences. The packaging films are clear plastics, like the ones currently on the market.
How can NanoPack meet the safety criteria that retailers demand? What were some of the key concerns in this regard?
NanoPack has a strong focus on assessment of the developed product from all angles including safety. Concern about impacts on health and the environment is a potential barrier limiting widespread use of nanotechnologies in food packaging. As such health (including occupational) and environmental safety assessment of NanoPack products and processes is prioritized. Assessment activities include migration studies, investigation of the toxicological and ecotoxiological profiles of HNTs, exposure assessment during production and product application, and human and environmental risk assessment, all with the aim of ensuring that NanoPack packaging meets the European regulatory safety requirements for food contact materials.
Could this become a mainstream packaging method? Is it on the market as of yet?
It is not yet on the market. NanoPack is carrying out pilot tests of all packaging production stages on existing pilot production lines in order to ensure that products are commercially and industrially feasible. The technology is forecast to reach Technology Readiness Level 7 (Demonstration in an operational environment) by the end of the project (December 2019).
What are some main challenges for consumers acceptance of nanotechnology to food packaging?
The success of the food packaging technology depends on its characteristics and its benefits and how consumers understand them. In relation to the characteristics of the technology, nanotechnology was not perceived negatively from our respondents, while it was mainly other elements (e.g. the essential oils) that participants emphasized, especially in a negative tone (since they connect them with other non-food applications). In relation to the benefits, there is a trade-off between extending a product shelf-life (and what interests food producers) and freshness (what interests the consumers). Such a trade-off is very important to understand since a possible benefit from this a food packaging technology (i.e. extending shelf-life) may not result in acceptance if freshness is compromised in the consumers’ minds.
How will you ensure that NanoPack products comply with European regulatory requirements for food packaging?
Regulatory compliance is an important factor to consider: any new technology that is to be brought to the market must comply with specific regulations in accordance with EU legislation on food contact materials. In the context of NanoPack, a full health (including occupational) and environmental safety assessment of NanoPack products and processes is prioritized with the goal of ensuring that NanoPack products meet EU and global quality and safety standards.