Project Title
NANO-engineered PACKaging systems for improving quality, SAFEty and health characteristics of foods
Project Type
Nacional / Public
Funding Body
Funding Program
Portugal-Spain International Nanotechnology Laboratory Nanotechnology Projects Call
  • CEB: 36 000,00
  • Total: 105 000,00
Universidade do Minho
External link

Principal Investigator

Team Members - CEB


Food technologists expect Nanotechnology to revolutionize food production and the establishment of new ways of controlling and assuring food safety from farm to fork. Food safety and quality is today provided by macroscopic technologies, where processing, storage and distribution are controlled by conventional methods (e.g. HACCP). However, there are steps which are currently non-controllable (e.g. human interaction with foods), leading to important quality and safety losses (e.g. temperature abuses in the distribution chain). This proposal aims at developing nanotechnology-based food protection strategies by providing active packaging systems (through nano-engineered edible coatings, non-edible films and/or nano-particles) adapting to the outermost conditions to which foods are subjected during their life cycle. Many foods still need preservatives or nutritional fortification in order to offer a balanced nutritional composition. Most current packaging systems provide only a physical barrier, and little protection is given in terms of thermal insulation or micro-damages. Recently, important steps were given in the development of active packaging systems at the micro-scale, providing a glance of what can be done with nanotechnology (e.g. melting properties, seasoning delivery, moisture and microbiological spoilage control). To achieve the goal of outermost protection given by nano-engineered active packaging solutions, this proposal includes the integrated development of: i) Edible nano-films and nano-particles and their production systems (U.P.V., U.Valencia, U.Minho); ii) Non-edible films and their production systems (U. Vigo, U.P.V., U.Valencia, U.Minho); iii) Toxicological compliances and bioavailability (U.Complutense); iv) Instrumental analyses for film/particle characterization and the detection, quantification and structural analysis of nano components (U.Aveiro, U.Vigo) and v) Computational simulation and data analysis for the validation and establishment of production and control systems at the nano-scale (U.Minho). Different production systems will be applied: i) Layer by Layer (LbL) deposition, to build a specific structure of edible nanolaminate coatings based on polysaccharides; ii) Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD), to produce nanocomposite and nanostructured coatings based on inert inorganic materials doped with trace metals (Ag) to be applied on non-edible packaging materials; these can be further covered with an extra layer of lipid or biopolymeric materials with embedded nanoparticle sensors for e.g. O2, pH or temperature, based on fluorescence/absorption; iii) Production of nanobiocomposites of biopolymers containing low additions (<8%) of modified nanolayered phyllosilicates; these inorganic structures can also be surface modified to become (bio)active nanoadditives (antimicrobial, antioxidant or O2 scavenging) which can be integrated in biomaterials; iv) Inverse microemulsion or precipitation polymerization, to synthesize several polymeric nanogels (<100 nm), controlling particle size, distribution and molecular weight (these nanohydrogels encapsulate functional ingredients, to be released in response to specific environmental triggers). The physical characterization of nanoparticles and multilayer nanocomposite coatings will be made using AFM, SEM, TEM, rheology (oscillatory, DMA), XPS and UV-Vis-NIR (available at the participants’ premises). Additionally, analytical methods (chromatographic and mass spectrometry techniques) will be developed to study the release and migration of active compounds. In vitro and in vivo (rats) toxicological and bioavailability studies will assess the health safety of nanoparticles (such as non-digestible hydrogels which encapsulate functional molecules) and the intake of active molecules. The active packaging materials developed will be tested for their suitability to control the spoilage (fungus in fruit by pimaricin) and pathogen (L. monocytogenes in cold smoked salmon by bacteriocins) microbiota as well as their antioxidant activity. Also, state-of-the-art multi-scale computational methods (nano-to-meso and meso-to-macro) will be implemented to evaluate the performance of the several packaging systems configurations. Techniques such as individual molecular dynamics, mechanical movements and molecular permeability, mass transport and particle interactions will be included in a modelling simulation system based on complex systems philosophies (e.g. cellular automata, 'agent based modelling', scenario simulation). Furthermore, technometrics will be used to mine all the gathered data to produce valuable information to be used in models, and help all partners in the analysis of their results and planning new experiments at the nano-scale. These techniques will also be responsible to establish the first approaches to statistical process control by the adaptation of process analytical technologies and automation to the production of nano-packaging systems and to the evaluation of their performance at the different scale levels prior to their implementation. This project will allow the establishment of a coordinated research framework for the development of nanotechnologies applied to food safety and quality which will lead to fundamental findings and applied research, in close cooperation with industrial partners.