Università di Pisa

10/31/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/31/2023 04:25

Getting the Plastic out of packaging: eco-packaging for food made from chitosan and essential oils developed from black soldier flies

The eco-packaging can be found as spray, liquid, film, or tray made from chitosan derived from the exoskeleton of insects such as the black soldier fly. The innovation to reduce the use of plastic in packaging comes from the PRIMA Fedkito project that has just been concluded, which is coordinated by Professor Barbara Conti of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences at the University of Pisa.

Kumquat treated with chitosan

"Chitosan is a completely natural and biodegradable substance that has many uses in organic farming and in cosmetic, pharmacological, medical, veterinary and textile industries," explains Barbara Conti. "It is generally obtained from the exoskeleton of crustaceans or the cell walls of mushrooms, but also from insects. Following a circular economy criterion, to produce it we used pupae of Hermetia illucens (Diptera Stratiomyidae), also known as the black soldier fly, bred on organic waste coming from the food chain".

Black soldier fly.

In general, the packaging has been designed based on various food characteristics. It can be found as film, trays, or sprays to protect fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, and cured hams.

To enhance the protective effects of chitosan, the researchers also experimented with the addition of essential oils, which alone have insecticidal and fungicidal properties. The result is a differently flavoured packaging with added sensory value, e.g., a chitosan and black pepper spray to enhance the organoleptic characteristics and the bright, fresh appearance of small hamburgers.

A further step forward in experimentation has been able to produce packaging that is not only sustainable but also intelligent. In fact, the research unit of the University of Bologna directed by Professor Elisa Michelini has developed new-generation biosensors, which are simple to use and inexpensive, to be applied to chitosan packaging, which are used to indicate the presence and quantity of contaminants, bacteria, mycotoxins, but also the quality of packaged food.

Tray made from chitosan and on the right with the addition of essential oils

The entire Fedkito project consortium includes, together with the University of Pisa, the Universities of Bologna, Hassan II of Casablanca in Morocco, Thessaly in Greece, the Sorbonne and the Centre Technique Industriel de la Plasturgie et des Composites for France, the Biotechnology Centre of Borj Cedria in Tunisia, and as corporate partners two Italian companies, Gusto parmigiano and Azienda Agricola Salvadori Furio.