Indian-American California professor working to prevent food spoilage

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University of California, Davis food scientist Nitin Nitin with samples of antifouling, antibacterial plastic. The material could be used for packaging and for lining produce bins. (Photo UCDavis.edu)

An Indian-American professor at the University of California, Davis, is leading a project to develop new packaging materials that could prevent food spoilage by cutting cross-contamination.

Professor Nitin Nitin of UCDavis’ Departments of Food Science and Technology and of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, along with Professor Gang Sun, Textiles and Clothing, and Professor Glenn Young of Food Safety and Technology, are hoping to produce plastics that both repel bacteria and reduce food-spoilage microbes, according to a Jan. 2 press release from the Center for Produce Safety. The CPS describes itself as “a collaborative partnership that leverages the combined expertise of industry, government and the scientific and academic communities to focus on providing research needed to continually enhance food safety.”

The CPS says Nitin (and his team) has successfully completed a demonstration that showed the liners killed Listeria, their target organism, as well as other pathogens, and are further along on doing the proof-of-concept —  developing antifouling plastics that prevent Listeria surface contamination as well as formation of Listeria biofilms.

Initial testing was conducted in the laboratory, but the researchers plan to eventually field test the materials in fresh produce processing facilities.

In addition to measuring the materials’ ability to reduce pathogens, Nitin et al are also going to see examine the impact it has on  produce quality after extended contact.

While they have started by testing food bins etc., Nitin “envisions the benefits extending beyond just packers but to companies that collect, sanitize, store, and deliver RPCs to packinghouses, distributors and retailers,” the press release says. They have also contacted a U.S. Army research facility interested in antimicrobial material technologies, CPS said.

Nitin and his team met with representatives from the Center for Produce Safety as well as several other industry representatives, including some from the apple industry, before they embarked on their research, the CPS press release says. “The input and feedback we’ve received from them has been very encouraging,” Nitin is quoted saying.

 

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