A new bioactive packaging paper under development is designed to detect and kill any pathogens that are present in a food product.
The paper, being developed by researchers at 10 universities across Canada, contains ingredients that can detect and deactivate life-threatening food-, air- and water-borne bacteria and viruses such as E-coli and salmonella.
Such a product would be an additional food safety weapon for processors to incorporate in their packaging, helping to prevent recalls and brand damage due to pathogen contamination.
To develop the paper the researchers, nine industry partners, and federal and provincial government agencies have formed a research consortium named the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network.
The consortium will develop low-cost and easy-to-use paper-based products incorporating biologically active chemicals.
Robert Pelton, Sentinel's scientific director, says the consortium will develop food packaging that signals the presence of E. coli and salmonella, among other products.
They also plan to develop dip-sticks that can detect and purify unsafe drinking water, and paper strips that can check for banned pesticides on produce.
"What bioactive paper will offer is immediacy, portability and low-cost in detecting and repelling or deactivating harmful pathogens," said Pelton. "Right now, it can take days or weeks to get samples to a lab, diagnose the problem and get the remedy into the field."
The key to developing bioactive-paper products will be the consortium's ability to merge advances in biochemistry with current paper-production processes.
The researchers are investigating the development of a bioactive 'ink', which would allow biologically active chemicals to be printed, coated or impregnated onto or into paper using current processes.
Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) has provided $7.5m in funding over five years ending in 2010. Collaborating partners have provided an additional $3m over the same period.
In Europe the most frequently reported zoonotic diseases in humans are salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis, with the most deadly being listerious, according to a European Commission study published last year.
The study found there were 192,703 reported cases of salmonellosis and 183,961 of campylobacteriosis cases reported during 2004 in the EU's 25 member states.
The cases are out of a total of 400,000 human cases of zoonoses reported. Most of the cases were foodborne and associated with mild to severe intestinal problems.
In the US about 76-million food-borne illnesses occur annually, resulting in about 325,000 hospitalisations, 5,000 deaths and $7bn in medical costs.