UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A novel composite film — created by the bonding of an antimicrobial layer to conventional, clear polyethylene plastic typically used to vacuum-package foods such as meat and fish — could help to decrease foodborne illness outbreaks, according to researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
The antimicrobial lining of the film is comprised of a pullulan-based biopolymer produced from starch syrup during a fermentation process, which is already approved for use in foods. Pullulan, a water-soluble “polysaccharide,” is essentially a chain of sugar, glycerin and cellulose molecules linked together. To kill pathogens such as Salmonella, Listeria and pathogenic E. coli, researchers infused the pullulan with Lauric arginate, made from naturally occurring substances and already approved for use in foods.
Development of the composite antimicrobial film is important because 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur each year in the U.S. alone, resulting in 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In light of this problem and the commercial potential of this discovery, Penn State has applied for a provisional patent on the composite antimicrobial film.