A group of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Cartagena (UPCT) has developed an active container capable of extending the shelf life of the vegetables contained in it by more than 40%, significantly reducing the amount of spoilage. This has been the main conclusion of the doctoral thesis of Laura Buendía Moreno, focused on the study of the performance of this active cardboard container when it contains fresh tomatoes and peppers.
This new packaging solution, marketed under the Newfresh brand by the Murcian corrugated cardboard company SAECO, uses essential oils encapsulated with cyclodextrin, a natural polysaccharide, to delay the development of microorganisms capable of affecting the product quality, such as molds and bacteria, UPCT sources reported in a statement.
"The encapsulation prevents the essential oils from altering the smell or taste of the products and allows a modulated release of these oils, which exert an antimicrobial action that ensures the preservation of the packaged product," said Buendía.
The tests carried out during the thesis, directed by Professor Antonio López Gómez, María Ros Chumillas and Sonia Soto Jover, have simulated agro-industrial packaging and the transport of tomatoes and peppers, concluding that Newfresh active packaging significantly reduces the presence of rotten products compared with conventional cardboard boxes, "extending the shelf life of the product and allowing it to reach more distant destinations with the highest quality," said the author of the doctoral research project. The container, already patented, is designed to facilitate exports, allowing fruit and vegetable products to be shipped to new destinations with a guarantee of optimal preservation.
Large companies in the agro-food sector, such as Agroponiente and Fruca, have already successfully tested these active cardboard boxes and are marketing their products with them. Their antimicrobial agents and oxidative inhibitors become active when the products are refrigerated during transport and storage.
The use of encapsulated essential oils makes active cardboard containers a recyclable, sustainable and viable alternative to plastic containers, whose environmental consequences are increasingly criticized.
The research group in Cold Engineering and Food Safety of the UPCT has also conducted tests to verify the effectiveness of these active cardboard containers in other products, such as oranges, mandarins, lemons, nectarines, strawberries, broccoli, Iceberg lettuce and Little Gem, cucumbers, and grapes.