Packaging – Active Biofilms, Biofilms, And Films
In this series, we're exploring packaging ingredients. In this post, we'll take a look at terms that will help us better understand packaging ingredients and emerging packaging technology: active biofilms, biofilms, and films.
Why do these terms sound similar?
Scientific terms can have numerous meanings based on the setting and the technology guiding how the terms are used in a specific subfield. Unfortunately, that can lead to confusion.
We're looking specifically at active biofilms, biofilms, and films in this post to help clarify their functions.
Let's look at biofilms.
In microbiology, biofilms describe one or more microorganisms that grow on each other and a surface, adhere to the surface, and cannot be easily removed. Biofilms are typically composed of bacteria, fungi, and protists, which are diverse eukaryotic organisms, typically a single cell with a nucleus, that is not an animal, plant, or fungus (1).
On the whole, biofilms associated with foods have a strong negative connotation. Typically, biofilms contain bacteria that could spoil food and cause harm to human health.
For example, listeria biofilms can plague milking and dairy processing equipment, causing listeria contamination in food if not immediately contained. Proper hygiene is critical not just for dairy equipment but also for all food processing facilities to ensure that persistent biofilms cannot dwell in a facility contaminating food.
While biofilms on equipment are of concern, adverse biofilms can form on foods if they are not packaged and appropriately transported. Packaging helps prevent damaging biofilms from forming on our foods and beverages.
Biofilms can be positive in specific and controlled situations. For example, biofilms used in water treatment facilities have a positive impact. However, generally, when biofilms are mentioned in the context of food production safety, they usually refer to an adverse outcome (1).
Let's look at active biofilms.
Active biofilms in packaging are significantly different from biofilms.
As discussed in a previous post, plant-based plastic (biopolymers) packaging is an emerging technology currently being developed and on the market in limited quantities (1,2).
Part of the research includes developing new packaging films that use nanotechnology in conjunction with plant-based ingredients to enhance the packaging's protective properties. These are often referred to as active biofilms.
Active biofilms are created from biopolymers and reinforced through nanofillers (1). Nanofillers are microscopic particles made from different ingredients. Often researchers use nanofiller ingredients from naturally derived sources such as clays, minerals, and biofibers to create a packaging material free from synthetically derived ingredients (1). In our next post, we’ll dig into nanofillers and materials.
Unlike most biofilms that are naturally occurring, active biofilms are human-made substances that will not adversely affect food production and food safety by the merits of existence. Instead, active biofilms can potentially transform our current packaging best practices as we learn more and develop the technology (1).
Let's look at films.
Food packaging films can refer to a few specific packaging elements.
A film can be plastic wrap made from low-density polyethylene to protect foods from contamination, damage, spoilage, and oxidation. Films that resemble the familiar low-density polyethylene plastic wrap can be made from other ingredients, too, like starches.
Films can also be infused with additional ingredients like food-safe metals and essential oils to help prevent food spoilage and oxidation while providing a barrier to contaminants (1,2).
How are all three related and different?
Films provide a physical barrier between the food and the environment and can be customized for specific products. Scientists and manufacturers can create films from synthetic or natural sources and infuse them with different ingredients to help to create the desired effect.
Active biofilms are films derived from natural sources designed for biodegradability as well as food protection.
Researchers and manufacturers develop films and active biofilms designed to help prevent harmful biofilms that can spread between surfaces causing damage.
The good news.
Researchers are combining familiar and emerging technologies in new ways to create packaging products that are safe, effective, and environmental-friendly. By understanding the purpose of films, biofilms, and active biofilms function, we can better understand how this new technology can improve food safety