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Ministero dell'Università e della Ricerca
Italia Domani, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan

Strengthening of the Italian Research Infrastructure for Metrology and Open Access Data in support to the Agrifood


METROFOOD-IT Solutions for Safer and More Sustainable Packaging in the Spotlight at Cibus Tech

The packaging of the future, thanks to the contribution of scientific research, must be innovative, competitive and focused on shelf life and sustainability. This was the message that was brought by Claudia Zoani, ENEA researcher and coordinator of the METROFOOD-IT project, during the event 'Food Tech Trend: the agri-food industry of the near future has already begun', organised by Cl.uster A.grifood N.a. (CL.A.N) as part of the Cibus Tech event (Parma 24-27 October).

The rules on packaging

Packaging has become a key component of the sustainable turnaround in the agri-food sector. Research institutes all over the world are committed in the development of new packaging technologies, which on the one hand can ensure the fundamental function of food protection and on the other hand take into account costs in terms of energy and materials, as well as food safety and waste disposal aspects. In particular, European Union regulations impose good manufacturing practices to ensure that any potential transfer to food does not pose risks to human health, unacceptable changes in the product's composition, and/or a deterioration of its organoleptic qualities.

Where research is focused

In this context, also due to increased consumer awareness, the plastics industry is increasingly moving towards the production of polymers of natural origin, known as biopolymers or bioplastics, produced from renewable sources such as polysaccharides (starch, cellulose, lignin, etc.), proteins (gelatine, wool, silk, etc.), lipids (fats and oils, etc.), polyesters produced by plants or microorganisms (e.g. polyhydroxyalkanoic acid, polyethylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, etc.). ), proteins (gelatine, wool, silk, etc.), lipids (fats and oils), polyesters derived by plants or microorganisms (e.g. polyhydroxyalkanoates - PHA), polyesters derived from bio-derived monomers (e.g. polylactic acid - PLA) and other polymers such as natural rubbers and composite polymers.

ENEA has a long history of research in this field, aimed at increasing chemical and microbiological safety, focusing on the development of active packaging with effects on extended food shelf-life and the creation of bioplastics (biodegradable and compostable), as well as smart labelling and data management and integration. During her speech, Zoani illustrated efforts in the development of innovative and environmentally friendly antibiofilm solutions and advanced microbiological monitoring systems. In particular, the combined use of carvacrol (a phenol contained in plant species such as oregano and thyme) with other natural solutions, such as lactic acid bacteria (LAB), appears to represent one of the most promising possibilities for the natural control of biofilms, which would thus be characterised by high antimicrobial resistance, reducing the risks associated with the spread of foodborne diseases.

L’attività di ENEA

L’ENEA ha una lunga attività di ricerca alle spalle in questo settore, finalizzata ad aumentare la sicurezza chimica e microbiologica, , puntando sviluppo di packaging attivo con effetti su una prolungata shelf-life degli alimenti e alla creazione di bioplastiche (biodegradabili e compostabili), nonché allo smart labelling e alla gestione e integrazione dati. Nel corso del suo intervento, Zoani ha illustrato gli sforzi nello sviluppo di soluzioni antibiofilm innovative ed ecocompatibili e sistemi avanzati di monitoraggio microbiologico. In particolare, l’utilizzo combinato del carvacrolo (un fenolo contenuto in specie vegetali come origano e timo) con altre soluzioni naturali, come i batteri lattici (LAB), sembra rappresentare una delle possibilità più promettenti per il controllo naturale dei biofilm, che sarebbero così caratterizzati da un’elevata resistenza antimicrobica, riducendo i rischi associati alla diffusione di malattie di origine alimentare.

The METROFOOD-IT approach

METROFOOD-IT, the research infrastructure funded under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRP), operates in this context. Its goal is to support research and innovation in the agrifood sector by providing integrated services, accelerating the digitisation of agrifood systems and their efficiency, traceability and sustainability. The project includes facilities for the development of new contact materials (active packaging, biomaterials), as well as for the characterisation of contact materials (with a focus on chemical and microbiological safety and their effects on increasing food shelf-life). Research efforts also aim to develop new sensors for storage and distribution monitoring, as well as labels integrated into packaging.

A significant part of the research work is also dedicated to performance and conformity assessment. A key role is also entrusted to the Living Labs of the METROFOOD-IT project, where all the new solutions can be effectively tested for the benefit of interested stakeholders, who can experience their functionality firsthand. In particular, innovative and sustainable packaging technologies are developed at the Agrifood Fab Lab at the University of Siena, a partner in the METROFOOD-IT project, and at the Circular Bioeconomy & Industrial Symbiosis Living Lab of ENEA.