In this edition of #ShealthyPeople, we talked with Dr. María Monedero, Project Manager at ITENE and leader of environmental, economic, and social sustainability assessment of the developed processes in SHEALTHY.

  • Tell us about ITENE. What is your know-how and what services do you provide?

The ITENE research center provides companies with cutting-edge knowledge and technology to build a safer, more sustainable future. We generate scientific and technological knowledge that we transfer to companies through R&D and innovation projects and consultancy, testing, and training services.

Also, we deliver solutions in four main areas: sustainable materials and technologies for the circular economy; design, safety, and functionality in packaging; chemical exposure and air quality monitoring; and logistics and smart mobility.

With more than 25 years of experience, we are based in Valencia, in the Technology Park of Paterna, where we have 7,500 square meters of facilities, half of them dedicated to laboratories and pilot plants.

  • What is the main role of your organization in this project?

ITENE has several roles in the project. Firstly, ITENE participates in the tasks related to the optimization of preservation methods, specifically in the development of active films from byproducts and coproducts extracted by other partners. Secondly, it is working on the development of devices for monitoring environmental conditions during storage, transport, and distribution of products, as well as on the optimization of logistics chains involved in the distribution of products. Thirdly, ITENE is developing freshness indicators for fruit and vegetable products. Lastly, ITENE is working on the evaluation of the safety of the materials developed from the point of view of contact with foodstuffs and is also responsible for the evaluation of the social and environmental impacts of the developments.

  • Which are the challenges you have faced so far in the project?

One of the most important or difficult challenges we have faced is related to the incorporation of new substances to obtain materials with the appropriate characteristics for the manufacture of packaging and that at the same time present the required functionality, in this case, antioxidant or antimicrobial. In addition, this packaging must be safe once in contact with the food products selected in the project, which are fruits and vegetables, including ready-to-eat.

  • ITENE is leading the optimization of active packaging material. What is the main advantage of this preservation method?

This method of preservation is not aggressive for the product and does not require the modification of the production and packaging line of the products. It simply aims to replace the current packaging material, providing additional functionality.

  • How do you expect the Food sector will change in the following years? How Shealthy is contributing to it?

Due to the socio-economic and legislative changes that we are experiencing in recent months and years, I have the opinion that the food sector is evolving towards increasingly healthy and safe food, but also more sustainable. In this sense, less chemicals will be used in the treatment and preservation of food, the proximity, the use of sustainable routes and types of transport (with low carbon footprint), the use of sustainable materials, but, why not, with extra functionalities, which allow the reduction of additives and add value to the products.

The Shealthy project is working on the development of sanitization and preservation methods that respect food and the environment, which will reduce the amount of chemical substances currently used in the sanitization of fruit and vegetable products and the use of by-products and coproducts from the fruit and vegetable industry. These new methods also include the use of active packaging, an alternative to the current ones, which offer additional functionalities to extend the shelf life of the products, thus achieving better use of natural resources.

On the other hand, work is being done to improve product safety from several approaches: monitoring product conditions during transport, storage, and distribution, tracking the state of freshness of food and detecting possible fraud. In addition, we are working to ensure that the methods and materials developed to comply with the corresponding legislation and are safe for the consumer.

In addition, the aim is to collaborate in reducing the environmental impact of fruit and vegetable production by optimizing transportation routes and logistics chains.

In summary, the Shealthy project addresses different types of technical developments, always bearing in mind the evolution of socioeconomic, environmental, and technical aspects throughout the food chain, from the harvesting of fruits and vegetables to their distribution.