Intelligent packaging has been an increasing focus of industry attention lately. With the recent announcement that Food Science Australia had developed tamper-evident packaging that "bruises", many heads were turned. FoodProductionDaily.com spoke to Dr Robert Steele, principal research scientist in the organisation's packaging technology division to find out more about its work within the packaging segment.
In recent years Food Science Australia has been working on the development of ground breaking innovations for the food and beverage industry. The organisation works on every aspect of the food and beverage chain - from food safety to packaging. All the development and research work is carried out from four laboratories, situated across Australia.
Food Science Australia is a joint venture between CSIRO's former Division of Food Science and Technology and the Australian Food Industry Science Centre. The organisation's mission is to help make Australian food companies among the most competitive in the world.
As part of the CSIRO family, Food Science Australia is linked to CSIRO research divisions throughout Australia, tapping in on a labour resource numbering some 7,000 people.
Packaging being one of the most important components of food processing, a significant part of Food Science Australia's work is devoted to this crucial area. Heading the packaging division are Dr Robert Steele and Dr Andrew Scully.
Dr Scully heads up the active packaging division, which has come to specialise in the development of active packaging. In the past there have been several major projects which have brought about international recognition for this particular division. Not least has been Zero2, which is packaging that absorbs oxygen in order to help extend shelf life of products. The technology, which is now being commercialised by Southcorp Packaging, can be used with a wide range of packaging and is expected to tap into local and export markets worth an estimated A$1.2 billion (€672m).
Dr Steele, on the other hand, is responsible for the intelligent packaging technology division, which is chiefly concerned with packaging integrity and safety.
"Intelligent packaging is a term coined to describe packaging or packagingaccessories that provide information," said Steele. "Packaging which incorporates components either into the packaging material or within the package in order to sense and inform about product safety and/or quality. Some technologies of the most important concepts we work around with intelligent packaging include package integrity; tamper indication and selective bacterial indication."
One of the division's most recent innovations is a tamper evident packaging, which has brought about international interest. Made from a film, the flexible packaging changes colour to alert retailers or consumers it has been punctured or tampered with.
"We developed a system to mimic the sort of bruising you get from an apple. If you puncture an apple it forms a brown stain," he said.
The new packaging is a natural red to light-pink colour. When punctured, the light and air react with the packaging in a process called photochemical oxidation which forms a type of bruising.
"This is a form of intelligent packaging that indicates when the integrity of the barrier has been breached. This breach could be from amalicious tamperer, an insect or an inadvertent rupture of the package by poor handling."
Packaging protection is an increasingly important part of packaging design. Consumers are now far more aware of food safety and they want to ensure that the packaged food they are consuming is as safe as possible. Risks include what the industry terms malicious and non-malicious tampering. The latter is an increasing threat, particularly in the light of increasing terrorist activities and the potential for sabotage attacks on packaged food products.
"Food manufacturers are demanding protection from a number of increasingly important areas," said Dr Steele. "These include toxins and carcinogens, microbiological pathogenic moulds, bacteria and yeasts. Then there is the whole area covered by chemicals which includes issues such as monomers, additives, sterilant and fumigant residues. We also have to tackle the problem of harmful microbes carried by dust, insects and foreign objects that might penetrate packaging such as needles."
Although Food Science Australia mainly works with companies and other organisations within Australasia, the recognition of its work is leading to an increasingly international reputation.
"Food Science Australia works with a wide range of food, packaging,transport, speciality chemical, horticultural companies," said Dr Steele. "Most companies are Australia-based, however we work with many global organisations and companies basedoverseas."