Plasma-Treated Packaging Will Help Meat Industry

Packaging meat products can be quite difficult. Meat producers strive to make the products appealing even after being unwrapped. That means getting rid of any undesirable gelatine on the surface to prevent the meat from going bad too soon and to make sure it doesn’t tear when peeling the foil. Scientists from CEPLANT at the Faculty of Science enlisted the help of plasma and found a way to improve the properties of plastic sausage casings.

21 May 2019 Iveta Zieglová

Three years ago, when Assoc. Prof. Dušan Kováčik from CEPLANT presented his paper on plasma treatment of surfaces at a conference, he was asked a question. The person asking it was a company representative and the question regarded plasma treatment of plastic sausage casings and wraps used in the meat industry. The topic sparked the researchers’ interest.

For us, it was a challenge. Usually, we’re plasma treating the exposed surfaces of materials, that is those that are in direct contact with the plasma created by an electric discharge. However, in this case, we were supposed to treat the inner surface of casings,” recollects Kováčik. The preliminary experiments were very promising. Yet when the scientists wanted to replicate the success, the results were not that good. “A question arose what caused this failure. It motivated us to pursue the problem,” says Mr Kováčik.

The scientists applied for a Proof of Concept the aim of which is to help verify or fine-tune a technology that is intended for the market. They succeeded and received a funding of CZK 750,000 which allowed them to pursue this issue. “Our objective was to optimize this plasma treatment. Thanks to the Project, we carried out a detailed study of the effects of plasma on plastic wraps, especially from the point of view of enhanced wettability, which usually indicates also better adhesion,” says Kováčik.

Cheaply and Effectively

Some companies are already using plasma treatments, especially the corona treatment which has been known and used in the plastic foil industry for decades. “However, it has several disadvantages, mostly the impermanence of the treatment. We’ve carried out a comparative study and the corona treated foil has lost the plasma-induced surface wettability almost entirely after just 24 hours. We’re using so-called diffuse coplanar surface barrier discharge and the materials treated with this discharge have been observed to retain their hydrophilic properties even after a month,” praises Mr Kováčik the new method.

“We found out that the important part is the material of the guide roller in the roll-to-roll plasma device. Even though we’re plasma treating the outer surface of the foil, the effect of the treatment shows on the inner surface as well. This is truly unique,” believes Mr Kováčik. According to Kováčik, companies could be interested in this technology. Thanks to the low cost of operation, companies should be able to recover the initial investment.

The coplanar discharge the scientists are working with has other advantages as well. The plasma it generates remains homogeneous even in ambient air, which is an advantage over other technologies that have to use noble gasses such as helium or argon to stabilize the plasma. “CEPLANT concentrates on low-cost plasma technologies that generally use efficient plasma sources operating under regular atmospheric pressure. The centre’s vision is to provide consultancy and collaboration to partners that are looking for such solutions,” concludes Mr Kováčik.

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