IIT Guwahati Researchers Develop Edible Coating for Produce

IIT Guwahati

New research will help farmers keep their produce safe from sprouting and rotting for longer durations and help reduce food losses in production and supply chains.

Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) researchers led by Prof. Vimal Katiyar at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Center for Excellence in Sustainable Polymers (CoE-SusPol), have developed an edible coating to extend the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables.

This coating material was tested on vegetables including potato, tomato, green chili, and fruits such as strawberries, apples, pineapples, and Kiwifruits, and was found to keep these fruits and vegetables fresh for nearly two months. The Researchers believe that their development could help the country reduce food losses along the production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

The research team also included Prof. Vaibhav V. Goud, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Guwahati and CoE-SusPol, IIT Guwahati, along with research scholars Ms. Kona Mondal, Ms. Tabli Ghosh, Ms. Mandavi Goswami, Ms. Shikha Sharma, and Sonu Kumar.

Highlighting the need for such studies, Prof. Katiyar said, “According to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, between 4.6 and 15.9% of fruits and vegetables go to waste post-harvest, partly due to poor storage conditions. In fact, post-harvest loss in certain produce items like potato, onion and tomato could be as high as 19%, which results in high prices for these highly consumed commodities.”

The edible coating is a mix of a microalgae extract and polysaccharides. The marine microalgae Dunaliella tertiolecta, known for its antioxidant properties, was used for its various bioactive compounds such as carotenoids, proteins, and polysaccharides.

The Dunaliella is also used as a source of algal oil. After the oil is extracted, the residue is usually discarded. The researchers, in this case, used extracts from this residue in formulating their film, in combination with chitosan. Chitosan, a carbohydrate, also has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties and can be made into edible film.

The properties of films with varying algal extract contents were analyzed and compared with controls. The fabricated edible films displayed superior qualities related to antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, water vapor barrier property, thermal stability, and mechanical strength. They also had excellent UV-Vis light-blocking property.

Speaking about the biodegradable coatings, Prof. Katiyar said, “The newly-developed coatings can be mass-produced and are unique. They are very stable to light, heat, and temperature up to 40oC, and can be safely eaten as part of the product formulation and do not add unfavorable properties to it. They retain the texture, color, appearance, flavor, nutritional value and microbial safety of the fruit or vegetable that has been coated, thereby enhancing their shelf life to several weeks to months.”

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