New Jelly Ice Cubes Could Transform Cold Food Storage

Researchers create a new way of cooling and storing food by reinventing the ice cube.

Jan 21, 2022
New Jelly Ice Cubes Could Transform Cold Food Storage | Researchers create a new way of cooling and storing food by reinventing the ice cube.

With a new age of environmental awareness around the globe, it seems like every industry is looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact by going green. This includes the cold storage used for keeping produce fresh by food companies.

According to a news release from the University of California Davis, a team of researchers at their Department of Food and Science Technology are hoping their revolutionary “jelly ice cubes” could offer a sustainable solution for the storage and shipping of fresh produce.  

Ice refrigeration isn’t reusable
The food people eat are often brought in from miles away and stored fresh using traditional cooling systems before the products hit store shelves. The cooling methods used are mostly ice or ice packs.

“When ice melts, it’s not reusable,” Gang Sun, a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at UC Davis said in the news release. “We thought we could make a so-called solid ice to serve as a cooling medium and be reusable.”

The inspiration for the study that was published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, actually came from a visit to a fishing processing plant where one of the project’s leaders, associate professor Luxin Wang, saw the massive amounts of unrecyclable ice being used to store the fish. This inspired her to look for a sustainable solution.

The jelly ice cubes that won’t melt 
The team got to work and created what they refer to as ‘jelly ice cubes’. Named for their gelatin-like appearance and feel, the ice cubes can take on various shapes and sizes and withstand temperature and pressure changes.

That means that the jelly ice cubes won’t melt in hotter temperatures but rather the technology will change colors to indicate that the ice cube needs to be refrozen. The cubes won’t lose their form either. According to Warp News, the cubes were tested to hold their structure against 22 pounds (9.97903 kg) of weight. 

The ice cubes are mostly made of water particles but it's the 10 percent gelatin hydrogel component that gives the jelly ice cubes their stability to retain their shape against outside factors, like temperature, according to the researchers. The novelty cubes can be used for 13 hours of storage and can easily be rinsed with bleach, and frozen again for reuse.  

The cubes can be cut into any shape or size, Jiahan Zou, a Ph.D. graduate student who has been working on the project the past two years said in the news release.

Creating a safer and more sustainable way to cut food loss.
The research team knows that this is huge for the potential to reduce water waste but also food waste across the food supply chain, according to a USDA report. Food contamination is one of the biggest factors in food waste and can happen at any stage. Once ice turns to water, it can pick up bacteria and subsequently spread it between neighboring produce.

However, if the jelly ice cubes are used, not only will they be offering a reusable solution to conserve water but, they will have a big impact on reducing food waste as well reported the UC Davis news release. These solid cubes can prevent cross contamination that comes from melted ice. 

Already mitigating two major threats facing food production, the team plans to take their research one step further and use agricultural waste and byproducts as the cooling agents in their future ice cube designs.

“We want to make sure this is sustainable,” said Wang in the news release. And these new innovative jelly ice cubes appear to be real winners in greening the food industry.

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Yael has a passion for research and discovery and devoted her studies to science. She is fascinated by anything technology related and how it can improve people’s lives. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, swimming and storytelling.