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Pea Starch Project Improves Food Safety – for Oct. 8, 2009

Researchers at the University of Manitoba have produced bioactive edible films and coatings from yellow field pea starch to improve food quality and safety.

Jung Han with the university’s department of food science says his main goal was to make a bioactive material delivery matrix – a neutral food-grade material – that could contain or incorporate various kinds of bioactive components. The project was funded by the Western Grains Research Foundation’s Endowment Fund.

“The raw materials I used were ingredients from yellow peas. It was food grade and needed to work as an inert coating material, to provide continuity over the whole structure,” says Han.

“The taste and texture would be neutral, but it had to be able to hold or carry the bioactive ingredient without changing its own properties. It’s dried, it’s a biodegradable plastic film. If it’s not dried, it could be a gel or coating material.”

One system Han developed was a wet pea starch gel coating applied directly to the surface of perishable foods, to isolate the food from the environment and reduce microbial contamination.

“This starch coating layer contained natural preservatives, natural antibiotics, or natural herbs and spice extracts which are natural anti-microbial agents. It killed the harmful bacteria wonderfully, without changing the population of good bacteria like lactic acid bacteria,” he says.

“Those are important issues for food safety. I used sliced chicken, drumsticks, fruits and cheese, coated with the pea starch coating layer. It preserved the foods against microbial contamination.”

Han developed a spray coating product that can be applied directly on a chicken carcass, to prevent cross-contamination of micro-organisms, from carcass to carcass. It can be applied with the inside-outside body washers currently used in the poultry industry.

The University of Manitoba owns the rights to the technology and is currently shopping it around to various commercial interests.

He also developed a microencapsulation process using pea protein. The edible microencapsulation material can be used to protect beta-carotene and fish oils, and may also be used to preserve flaxseed oil for the health food industry.

While there is a developing biodegradable plastic industry that uses PLA, or polylactic acid, derived from corn, Han’s work focused on making a similar plastic product from peas. He successfully developed a biodegradable plastic using pea starch.

Starch-based, plastic-like compostable containers can be made from potato starch, but Han says that product is mechanically weak. Adding pea starch to the mix helps increase its mechanical strength. Han says pea starch plastic is mechanically very strong.

Han says using biodegradable plastic for silage bags could be one commercial fit for the product. After the plastic is used, it would degrade in moist soil within a couple of months after disposal.

He concluded that dried pea starch films can be used as a food wrapping or within the food, to separate food components. The resistance of the films to high relative humidity makes these films useful with moist foods.

“Pea starch film is strong, has intermediate stretchability and good barrier properties at high relative humidity, which make it applicable on intermediate-and high-moisture foods. It can be sprayed plain or carry funct ional ingredients on dried fruits, bread, chocolate and nuts,” says Han.

A pea starch-based antimicrobial coating showed suitability to be used on raw chicken. The coating enhanced the antimicrobial activity of certain food preservatives.

“The coating increased the contact time between the antimicrobial and the targeted micro-organism. The applicability of this coating on other foods such as beef, nuts and dried fruits has potential to open a new market for pea starch,” he says.

The Endowment Fund, the original core fund of WGRF, has supported more than 200 research projects since 1983. Research reports on many of these projects are available on the WGRF website

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