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The Agricultural University of Athens Study: Unicor vs Polystyrene for Fish transportation

Evaluating Unicor-Based Containers for Sustainable Fresh Fish Transportation and Storage







In today's world, finding sustainable alternatives to traditional packaging materials is becoming increasingly important. The use of polystyrene (PS) boxes for transporting and storing fresh fish has been common practice, but concerns over plastic waste have led to the search for eco-friendly alternatives. Researchers Evgenia Basdeki, Eleni Mpenetou, Dimitris Ladakis, and Apostolos Koutinas, along with Theofania Tsironi from the Agricultural University of Athens, have explored the use of Unicor as a promising component in developing environmentally friendly packaging materials. Unicor is a patented combination of Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) and HDPE, offering advantages for the preservation of perishable food products like fish.


Background of the study

Packaging plays a crucial role in preserving the quality and safety of fish products during transportation and storage. Traditional polystyrene (PS) containers have been widely used due to their favourable properties, such as high tensile strength, water resistance, and thermal insulation. However, concerns about plastic pollution and environmental impact have motivated researchers to explore sustainable packaging alternatives.



Polystyrene continues to be an environmental disaster contributing greatly to landfill and polluting waterways and oceans globally.


The study addressed three major trends in the food packaging sector: the health trend, the green movement, and the food safety trend. Biodegradable or compostable materials derived from renewable resources, like chitosan-based materials from crustacean shells, and recycled materials like cardboard and plastic have been proposed as sustainable packaging options.


Introducing Unicor


Unicor, a packaging with CaCO3 (Calcium Carbonate) in its composition, has been investigated as a potential alternative for conventional plastic packaging materials. Previous research has incorporated Unicor into packaging materials, including essential oils, for the preservation of ready-to-eat meat products, showcasing its promise in the food industry.


Research Objective

The main objective of the study was to evaluate the applicability of Unicor-based containers for transporting and storing fresh Mediterranean fish. The researchers sought to determine if the Unicor containers as a sustainable alternative to harmful polystyrene could retain fish quality, and ensure a high shelf life for the perishable product based on microbial testing throughout.


Materials and Methods

Red sea bream (Pagrus major) was used as the test sample and stored in three different packaging containers for the study: cardboard, Unicor-based (instead of CaCO3), and traditional PS boxes. The fish was stored at 2°C for 11 days and periodically exposed to room temperature (25°C) to simulate temperature fluctuations during transportation.


Results and Discussion


Thermal properties of the packaging materials were measured, with the Unicor-based containers exhibiting promising thermal conductivity within the range of air-based insulations, making them suitable as insulating cool boxes for perishable products.


Microbial growth in the fish flesh (including skin) followed the time-temperature profile of the containers. The Unicor-based containers performed well, resulting in similar microbial loads in the fish as the traditional PS boxes during the 11-day simulated transportation and storage with temperature fluctuations.


Seafood packaging thermal recordings:

The internal temperatures within each packaging material. NB. Unicor is identified as the CaCO3-based packaging in the graph.

Microbial Analysis using Cardboard Packaging


According to the testing results, the cardboard packaging provided a shelf-life of red sea bream of only 4 days when used under the non-isothermal conditions to simulate transportation and storage.



Microbial Analysis using Polystyrene Packaging



According to the testing results, the polystyrene packaging provided a shelf-life of red sea bream of 7 days when used under the non-isothermal conditions to simulate transportation and storage.



Microbial Analysis using Unicor Packaging


According to the testing results, the Unicor packaging provided a shelf-life of red sea bream of 6 days when used under the non-isothermal conditions to simulate transportation and storage.




Conclusion

The study concludes that Unicor-based containers can serve as an efficient and eco-friendly alternative to traditional PS boxes for transporting and storing fresh fish. These containers offer comparable results while reducing plastic waste, aligning with the increasing demand for sustainable packaging solutions.

Future research in sustainable packaging for sensitive food products may focus on further replacing conventional polymers with alternative materials and developing new multilayer sandwich structures with optimized thermal properties. The recycling of raw materials and exploring the potential for container reuse can also improve environmental impact and sustainability.


In conclusion, Unicor-based containers show great promise for the sustainable transportation and storage of fresh fish, contributing to a greener and more environmentally responsible food supply chain. This study was performed using standard Unicor packaging and have since evolved our Unicor-based packaging with further insulation properties with the introduction of our Unicool solution.



Click below to download the article of the study conducted by the Agricultural University of Athens:

Unicor Study Agricultural University of Athens
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View article on MDPI's website: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/16/1/130



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