Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) is developing a novel way to protect fresh food from contamination and consumers from foodborne illness - super-repellent coatings.
The coatings will also be anti-fouling surfaces for foods and mimic leaves’ ability to reduce the attachment of microorganisms, says the team. They point to rice leaves, which have hydrophobic super-repellent characteristics, as their inspiration.
“With this project, we will design novel coatings, which are specifically tailored for the food industry and also suitable for large-scale production and application to achieve a broad impact on relevant stakeholders,” Mustafa Akbulut, TEES chemical engineer and principal investigator for the project, says.
Food safety outbreaks in recent years have caused illnesses and deaths among consumers, negatively affecting the fresh produce industry on a large scale, emphasized TEES.
This has only led to a greater sense of urgency to reduce the outbreaks associated with the contamination that can happen in different operations along the fresh produce chain, comments Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, AgriLife Research food scientist and co-principal investigator for the project.
“The surfaces we are designing avoid cross-contamination and reduce the risk of biofilm formation,” he adds.
The scientists were able to develop the super-repellent coatings thanks to a recent grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
According to TEES, the grant will help the team ensure the safety of fresh food products, benefiting both consumers and the produce industry.
“Our team is a pioneer in this area, in the U.S. and worldwide,” Cisneros-Zevallos notes.
“We certainly believe that it will transform the way the fresh produce industry operates. And we hope the industry will adopt many of the products our project will develop in the next few years of the grant.”