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NextGenPack: towards sustainable and functionalised food packaging

NextGenPack is an alliance between INRA and the German technical centre Fraunhofer IVV. It offers companies who wish to develop active and/or intelligent sustainable packaging systems its combined scientific and technical skills ranging from the basic concept to manufacture at a semi-industrial scale.

NextGenPack : Next generation of advanced active and intelligent biobased packaging for food. © INRA, INRA
Updated on 10/19/2017
Published on 08/17/2017

Plastic: the material most widely used to package food products

Plastic remains the material used most frequently for food packaging, although some major changes have affected its use. Thus "sustainable plastic packaging" is increasingly preferred by consumers in a European regulatory context that is now incentivising this option. According to a study published in 2016, this market is also shifting towards the use of increasingly complex systems that can absorb or release substances in order to extend the shelf-life of foods (active packaging) or which offer new services to consumers (intelligent packaging), such as detecting the presence of pathogenic bacteria or providing information on the ripeness of a packaged fruit without the need to touch or smell it. The TRANSMAT team (transfers of material and reactions in food/packaging systems; transferts de matière et réactions dans les systèmes aliment/emballage) in the Joint Research Unit for Agropolymer Engineering and Emerging Technologies (IATE) in Montpellier is at the heart of these innovations which are designed to optimise the shelf-life of foods as part of the fight against food waste.

NextGenPack: natural compounds to functionalise packaging

To design these new packaging systems, the scientists have used matrices made of biodegradable and/or compostable polymers: polylactic acid (PLA) and poly-hydroxy-alcanoate (PHBV), or biosourced substances (biosourced polyethylene; Bio PE). Adding different molecules into or on the surface of these matrices can modify the internal atmosphere of the packaging in contact with foods, thus improving their preservation. The scientists have profited from the properties of different natural compounds. Thus organic acids act like oxygen traps and can reduce the oxidation reactions of vitamins or fatty acids and also delay microbial growth. Aromatic compounds may also be efficient in releasing antibacterial or antifungal substances into the internal atmosphere of a packaging system. The final example concerns a sugar such as sucrose which helps to regulate moisture and can procure effective protection against the oxidative deterioration of fruit aromas.
NextGenPack: proteins at the service of intelligent packaging
Based on the electrical properties of proteins, the scientists have developed a biosensor coupled with an RFID label. This new technology for radiofrequency identification enables the creation of intelligent labels that can ensure the unique identity of a product, associated with information that will remain with it and evolve throughout its life. In the long term, these systems could replace current traceability methods.

NextGenPack: decision-making tools

A first decision-support tool has been developed for actors in the sector so that they can predict or simulate the functionalities of active or intelligent packaging systems. To achieve this, models predictive of the life of products have been coupled with mass transfers to create a decision-support tool that can rationalise the development of packaging.
A second tool is currently under study. This may be able to orient a choice of packaging that takes account of different criteria, such as the price of a packaging system, its appearance or even its composition.
In the future, the NextGenPack alliance aims to:

  • Develop joint projects with industry,
  • Enable exchanges between scientific teams,
  • Set up a European platform for exchanges between different actors in R&D on food packaging.
Scientific contact(s):

  • Nathalie GONTARD INRA-CIRAD-Montpellier Joint Research Unit for Agropolymer Engineering and Emerging Technologies (UMR 1208 IATE), Campus Supagro Montpellier, 2 place Viala, 34060 MONTPELLIER CEDEX 2
Associated Division(s):
Science for Food and Bioproduct Engineering
Associated Centre(s):

For more information on NextGenPack

Logo NextGenPack. © INRA, NextGenPack
© INRA, NextGenPack

NextGenPack: Next generation of advanced active and intelligent biobased packaging for food
Objective: the alliance can offer expertise in the active or intelligent packaging field in the following areas: materials and packaging systems, design (modelling and decision-support tools), eco-efficient technologies.

List of partners: INRA - Institut Carnot 3BCARFraunhofer IVV

Funders: ANR pour la France et le Ministère fédéral de l’enseignement et de la recherche pour l’Allemagne.

Project website: http://nextgenpack.eu/

For more information on the Inter Carnot-Fraunhofer programme

programme Inter Carnot Frauhenhofer. © INRA, Inra
© INRA, Inra

NextGenpack resulted from the Inter Carnot Frauhenhofer programme  -PICF-, and its call for projects in 2011 .
“The objective of this programme is to establish collaborative research and innovative Franco-German projects between the Carnot Institutes (IC) and Fraunhofer Institutes (FhI).
These projects must aim to:

  • Reinforce leadership in industrial research (at both the national and international levels),
  • Prepare the transfer of technologies and knowledge to industry,
  • Create strategic Franco-German alliances between top-quality research organisations.”