Scientists have proposed adding copper nano-particles into food packaging materials on this basis that this could help prevent a variety of foodborne diseases.
It has been known for centuries that copper has antimicrobial properties. For example, it was observed in Roman times that water contained in copper vessels or transported in copper conveyance systems was of better quality (i.e., no or little visible slime formation) than water contained or transported in other materials.
As a new development on an established element, a research team have discovered how to embed nanoparticles of the red metal into vermiculite, an inexpensive, inert compound sometimes used in potting soil. Vermiculite is a hydrous, silicate mineral. Large commercial vermiculite mines currently exist in Russia, South Africa, China, and Brazil.
In preliminary tests on local lake water, it killed 100 percent of Escherichia coli bacteria in the sample. The idea, from this, is to develop the technology and incorporate into food packaging materials in order to reduce the risk of pathogens causing food poisoning.
The advantage is that the copper-vermiculite material mixes well with many other materials, like cardboard and plastic, so it could be used in packing beads, boxes, even cellulose-based egg cartons.
The technology has been developed by a team led by Michigan Technological University scientist Jaroslaw Drelich.