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Researchers win $5.1m grant to improve food packaging

By Jenny EAGLE , 18-Sep-2013
Last updated on 18-Sep-2013 at 10:48 GMT2013-09-18T10:48:49Z

Dr Andrew East & Professor John Bronlund
Dr Andrew East & Professor John Bronlund

Two university researchers have beaten 250 applicants to win $5.1m in government funding to improve the way export food products are packaged.

Dr Andrew East of the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health and Professor John Bronlund of the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology at Massey University, New Zealand, will build a team of six to carry out the six year project starting in October.

Dr East told FoodProductionDaily they were really surprised to get the funding because they knew the chances of winning were slim.

$278m scheme

Now we’ve got it, it’s great a project to work on because it has such a long time frame,” he said.

We can put a lot of effort into it to make an impact. Phase one is trying to build a team of two post graduates and four PhD students. It’s good for them to be able to learn skills in the development of packaging for food.”

The grant is part of a $278m scheme announced by New Zealand Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce last month.

It will cover 51 programs in biological industries, manufacturing and services, energy and minerals, environmental, and health and society sectors.

Flawed packaging

Dr East said he and Bronlund found out about the grant because it was heavily advertised in New Zealand and he thinks their application stood out because aside from the research and development, they will be partnering with some packaging manufactures, but he would not reveal who.  

He said packaging for food export is flawed because of moisture loss in compressed boxes and humidity causing food rot.

We will work on a number of design prototypes to improve product losses, compression failure and high moisture environments,” he said.

Export packaging goes through a number of transport networks and cardboard soaks up the moisture and there is a high risk of compression damage.

Southeast Asia

Our emerging market is southeast Asia, which creates even bigger challenges for us so we are looking at ways to improve humidity controls, looking for more consistent cooling and good temperature control so that we don’t get over rot.

We have a number of milestones where we will assess the results of our findings every two years.”  

Massey University is part of  FoodHQ, New Zealand’s international centre for collaborative food research. Partners include AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Fonterra, the Riddet Institute and the BCC (Bio Commerce Centre).

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