Researchers at the University of California-Davis have developed a new type of cooling cube with the potential, they say, to transform how cold storage is done.

The benefits of plastic-free, “jelly ice cubes” are that they do not melt, are compostable and antimicrobial, and can help prevent cross-contamination.

It can be easy for foodservice operators and their employees not to think about the food safety implications of how ice is used and handled. If they don’t take proper precautionary measures to handle food properly or keep up with necessary preventive maintenance measures to ensure that their ice machines are clean, sanitary and operating safely, there can be serious food safety risks. The researchers at the UC-Davis took note of this concern.

The researchers began working on their coolant cubes after Luxin Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, saw the amount of ice used at fish-processing plants and the cross-contamination that meltwater could spread among products or drains.

“The amount of ice used by these fish-processing sites is massive,” Wang said. “We need to control the pathogens.”

Gang Sun, a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, pointed to other issues such as the mold found in plastic ice packs used with school lunches for kids and frequently found in shipping packages.

Reducing waste
The researchers’ jelly ice cubes offer an alternative that can potentially reduce water consumption and environmental impact. The jelly ice cubes also offer stable temperatures to reduce food spoilage and could be ideal for meal prep companies, shipping businesses and food producers who need to keep items cold.

The research was published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded a $485,000 grant for the research, and proof-of-concept work began in January 2020.

Watch the video below for a look at the jelly ice cubes and how they are used.

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