Nanotechnology – engineering at a molecular and atomic level – is already in use in applications ranging from sunscreens to mobile phones, but what about in meat packaging?
This is probably not at the top of your list when you buy food machinery, yet there is growing interest in using nanotechnology in just this context; after all, meat is made up of tiny protein filaments and it is the way in which these are structured and organised that give the food its texture and appearance.
Meat packaging could benefit hugely
Nanotech is used in food packaging when suppliers want improved functions from the packaging. A plastic polymer with particular food preserving properties can do this job; in addition, nanosensors are very much at the forefront of ‘smart’ labelling for food.
The potential advantages are huge; for example, nanotech could be used to ensure stable temperatures in meat packs at every part of the delivery chain. Working at molecular level, packages could be programmed to repel or preserve water content, to sense levels of bacteria or microbes, and to act to neutralise them once they reach unacceptable levels.
Consumers of the future may be able to see how fresh the meat is from these labels; for example, if there is oxidation inside the packet, nanoparticles could change colour, telling the shopper that the product is no longer fresh. These developments are happening now; therefore, when you buy used food machinery from Clarke Fussells or another supplier, you may well see machines with this capability.
Much of this lies in the future, of course, but the potential effects on the food industry are huge. It can currently take up to a week to carry out thorough tests for meat-borne pathogens; however, at least one university is now working on handheld nanotechnology sensors that will be able to detect pathogens instantly. Security of supply is a major concern for supermarkets and nanotech has many applications in biosecurity, such as ensuring that packed meat products are tamper-proof and reporting any attempt to interfere with the packaging.
There are, of course, environmental concerns, as nanotechnology is not something we are yet familiar with; however, used sensibly in packaging, it may be able to dramatically reduce the amount of spoiled and wasted food, which must be a huge benefit.