Researchers at the University of California have developed a new type of cooling cube that could revolutionize how food is kept cold and shipped fresh without relying on ice or traditional cooling packs.
These plastic-free, “jelly ice cubes” do not melt, are compostable and anti-microbial, and prevent cross-contamination, according to Gang Sun, a professor in the department of biological and agricultural engineering.
“When ice melts, it’s not reusable, we thought we could make a so-called solid ice to serve as a cooling medium and be reusable,” Sun said.
The cooling cubes contain more than 90 per cent water and other components to retain and stabilize the structure. They are soft to the touch like a gelatin dessert and change colour depending on temperature.
These reusable cubes can be designed or cut to any shape and size needed.
A patent for the design and concept was filed last year.
The researchers hope to eventually use recycled agriculture waste or by-product as the coolant material.
Luxin Wang, an associate professor in the department of food science and technology, said researchers just need to make sure it is sustainable.
The researchers began working on the coolant cubes after Wang saw the amount of ice used at fish-processing plants and the cross-contamination that meltwater could spread among products or down the drain.
“The amount of ice used by these fish-processing sites is massive,” Wang said. “We need to control the pathogens.”
Moreover, mould has been found in the plastic ice packs used with school lunches for kids and frequently found in shipping packages.
Early tests have shown the cubes can withstand up to 22 pounds without losing form. They can be reused a dozen times — just a quick wash with water or diluted bleach — and then disposed of in the trash or with yard waste.
The jelly ice cubes offer an alternative to traditional ice and could potentially reduce water consumption and environmental impact. They 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 cubes could potentially reduce water consumption in the food supply chain and food waste by controlling microbial contaminations.