An IIT Guwahati researcher displays a tomato appearance after 15 days of coating | IIT Guwahati

IIT Guwahati researchers led by Vimal Katiyar, department of chemical engineering and centre for excellence in sustainable polymers (CoE-SusPol), have developed an edible coating to extend the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables.

This coating material, which will prevent wastage, was tested on vegetables such as potato, tomato, green chilli and strawberries, Khasi mandarin, apples, pineapples, and kiwifruits and were found to keep these vegetables fresh for nearly two months, mentioned a statement.

The IIT Guwahati researchers believe that their development could help the country meet the sustainable development goal (SDG) target 12.3 which is aimed at reducing food losses along the production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

The research team included Vimal Katiyar and Vaibhav V Goud, department of chemical engineering and CoE-SusPol along with their research scholars Kona Mondal, Tabli Ghosh, Mandavi Goswami, Shikha Sharma and Sonu Kumar.

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

The IIT Guwahati team used a mix of a micro-algae extract and polysaccharides to produce protective, edible films for coating on vegetables and fruits. The marine microalgae called dunaliella tertiolecta is known for its antioxidant properties and has various bioactive compounds such as carotenoids, proteins, and polysaccharides.

It is also used as a source of algal oil, which is used as a non-animal source of omega-3 fatty acid and is being considered as a source of biofuel. After the oil is extracted, the residue is usually discarded.

The researchers used extracts from this residue in formulating their film, in combination with chitosan. Chitosan, a carbohydrate, also has antimicrobial and antifungal properties and can be made into an edible film.

Speaking about the developed biodegradable coating, Vimal Katiyar further added: “The newly-developed coatings can be mass-produced and are unique. They are very stable to light, heat and temperature up to 40oC, edible and can be safely eaten as part of the product formulation and do not add unfavourable properties to it. They retain the texture, colour, appearance, flavour, 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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