UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Researchers at Penn State Univ.,'s College of Agricultural Sciences found that using films made of an edible, mostly tasteless polymer inhibited foodborne pathogens on meat.

Using films made of pullulan, a polymer produced the by fungus Aureobasidium pulluns, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of films containing essential oils derived from rosemary, oregano and nanoparticles against foodborne pathogens associated with meat and poultry. Researchers found that antimicrobial films significantly inhibited foodborne pathogens.

"The results from this study demonstrated that edible films made from pullulan and incorporated with essential oils or nanoparticles have the potential to improve the safety of refrigerated, fresh or further-processed meat and poultry products," said Catherin Cutter, professor of food science. "The research shows that we can apply these food-grade films and have them do double duty — releasing antimicrobials and imparting characteristics to protect and improve food we eat."

Cutter noted that the bacteria-killing action is longer lasting in edible films because the films adhere to the meat, allowing the antimicrobials to slowly dissolve. Also, microorganisms do not have the opportunity to regrow. However, edible films are not oxygen-impermeable.

"The meat industry likes the properties of the polyethylene vacuum packaging materials that they are using now," Cutter added. "However, the one thing I really want to be able to do in the next few years is to figure out a way to co-extrude antimicrobial, edible films with the polyethylene so we have the true oxygen barrier properties of the plastic with the antimicrobial properties of the edible film."