U.S. Patent for New Plastics Packaging Technology

Emeritus Professor Wyatt Brown in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department helped develop new plastics that increases the shelf life and nutritional quality of perishable food products such as fresh fruits and vegetables — earning a U.S. patent for the new technology.

Brown worked with colleague Keith Vorst, director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium at Iowa State University, over the last two years to help develop a new method of food packaging that reduces the breakdown of essential nutrients in foods such as pre-cut broccoli florets and pre-packaged leafy greens and results in a greater shelf-life for these products. Several students assisted in the process alongside Brown in his lab.

“Dr. Vorst and I came up with the idea based on what we had observed in my lab,” said Brown, whose research centers on the postharvest interactions of pre-cut fruits and vegetables with plastics and food packaging. “We did some additional testing looking at the chlorophyl breakdown of particular vegetables and then dug into the scientific literature to determine what was already known and what evidence existed for what we were observing.”

Vorst worked at Cal Poly for 10 years in the Industrial Technology Department before joining Iowa State. He worked collaboratively with Brown on a number of research projects involving food, packaging, plastics biodegradability, plastics contamination and novel plastics. “We found that there was good evidence that controlling what light gets into a packaged product can have a large impact on keeping the food not only greener longer, but more importantly, maintaining its nutritional quality for longer as well,” Brown said.

Vorst and his team at Iowa State formulated different mixtures of plastics with or without additives and tested these novel plastics by using them to produce packaging such as the clamshells, trays and films used when marketing fruits and vegetables. By using state-of-the-art technology, Vorst’s team was able to precisely vary the composition of the plastics, allowing them to be tailored to specific commodities.

“Working with Brown enabled us to identify novel packaging materials that would benefit from Brown’s initial evaluation of leafy greens,” said Vorst. “The collaboration allowed for a holistic approach to improving packaged food quality.”

Both Brown and Vorst are named on the patent, which was filed in 2017 and approved four years later in March 2021. Greg Curtzwiler, assistant professor at Iowa State, and Cal Poly Professor Jeffrey Danes, who passed away in 2017, are also named.

“While it is a wonderful feeling to know that my research is making an impact on the industry, I look forward to the additional opportunities that exist for future graduate students to build upon it,” Brown said.

For more information on this technology or to explore a license, please reach out to Jim Dunning, AVP, Corporate Engagement and Innovation at techtransfer@calpoly.edu.


Visit Cultivate Summer 2021 to read more stories.

Related Content