An edible coating for fresh meat will increase the shelf-life of the product and ultimately reduce the need for oil-based plastic packaging. The research contract for this development has been awarded to UK pharmaceutical manufacturer, Pepceuticals Limited. Leicester-based Pepceuticals is the only UK partner in this European research collaboration worth 1.6 mln Euro which is set to run for 18 months. The aim of the EU-funded project is to create a safe, biologically-active film which doesn�t affect the fresh meat and will replace the familiar plastic vacuum packs. Managing Director, Dr Kamal Badiani, says: �Antimicrobial peptides are widely used in the healthcare sector for tackling infection, so it is a natural progression to apply the same chemistry to food preservation. The research goal is that when you look at the meat with this coating on you would not know it is there. You can cook with it on and it is safe to eat.� Pepceuticals holds the licence to sell the product across the UK. The company's role in the three-year project will be to produce peptides which will make up the preservative coating for meat and protect it from bacteria.
According to research by WRAP, UK consumers spend more money on meat than any other food item, and households are wasting around 570,000 tons of fresh meat each year, of which 260,000 (46%) is avoidable. The potential to apply an antimicrobial film in the processing factory should significantly prevent the deterioration of the fresh meat product, and save waste. It will revolutionise the look and feel of the traditional meat counter. The same WRAP research reports that around 110,000 tons of packaging waste is produced, of which 81,000 tons (73%) are land filled. The majority of this material is cardboard and plastic that is mildly contaminated with blood following contact with meat. The need to improve the disposal of this material is a widely recognised issue so, if successful, this research project could provide a sustainable solution to the problem.
The WHEYLAYER project (FP7 grant agreement n�218340-2 under the programme �Research for SME Associations�) ended in October 2011. It very convincingly researched and developed a biopolymer-coating based on whey protein for plastic films able to replace currently used expensive synthetic oxygen barrier reaching Oxygen Transmission Rate (OTR, Q100) of 1 cm3/m2d bar at 23�C and 50% RH and Water Vapour Transmission Rate (WVTR, Q100) of 2 g/m� d. The WHEYLAYER�-based multilayer films materials are easily recyclable as opposed to their conventional counterparts. The project very convincingly researched and developed a biopolymer-coating based on whey protein for plastic films able to replace currently used expensive synthetic oxygen barrier. The LCA showed significant reduction of the environmental impact of the resulting packaging and preliminary evaluation showed that it fulfilled food safety regulations. A patent application was filled regarding the coating process and a WHEYLAYER� prototype application machine was built to reach semi-industrial production speed while keeping satisfactory barrier properties.WHEYLAYER 2 is the follow-on phase from the WHEYLAYER project. With a 2 years funding from the FP7 Demonstration Activity scheme, it will focus on up-scaling the results obtained in the WHEYLAYER project, to prove their industrialization potential. It will focus on final packaging items such as films but also trays, blisters, tubes and cans, and additional packaging functionalities such as convertibility, printability, UV barrier. WHEYLAYER� will be evaluated as packaging solution for food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical. Since the Wheylayer project researched and developed a biopolymer-coating based on whey protein for plastic films, the European Commission decided to bet further on the biopolymer solution to allow its introduction in packaging value chain.