Huddle: Fredericton Company Creates Award-Winning Natural Food Preservative

FREDERICTON – The creators of an award-winning natural food preservative say it will revolutionize the food industry when it hits the market in October.

Chiber, produced by Fredericton based Chinova Bioworks,  is an alternative to artificial preservatives used in the food and beverage market.

Created by Chinova Bioworks scientist Tanzina Huq, Chiber is based on a fibre extracted from white button mushrooms that works as a natural antimicrobial, providing health benefits to consumers while keeping foods and beverages fresh, safe and nutritious. It protects against bacteria, yeast, mould and pathogens. The product was first tested on juices, sparkling water and iced teas, and is now being applied to dairy products and salad dressings.

“Customers for food and beverage look all the time for transparency and natural ingredients… producers are also looking for safe and longer shelf life and a clean label [alternative] on their products,” said Huq.

Huq was given the Mitacs Outstanding Entrepreneur Award for the product on May 28 at a ceremony in Halifax. Mitacs is a non-profit organization that promotes growth and innovation in Canadian business and academia.

The final product was a team-effort of Chinova Bioworks, says Huq.

“At first we had a lot of doubts, like ‘how are we going to scale this up?’” said Huq. “That was our main problem, but we overcame [it].”

Chinova Bioworks is working with multinationals in Canada and the United States, where the product will be first launched.

“The first investment that we received is from [a company in] the U.S.,” said Huq. “They are actually helping us.”

The product received a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) certification in 2018, which enables the company to market it to companies in the U.S. Confidentially agreements prevent them from identifying their clients in the U.S.

The company is still undergoing paperwork to launch the product in Canada, where the process takes longer, says Huq. She believes it will take over two years to get approval here.

The clients send their product to Chinova Bioworks, where they apply the preservative and test it. If it works, the clients apply the preservative to their production line and send the product back to Chinova, where they test it for the second time.

The product can be customized to fight specific bacteria according to the customers’ needs.

In supermarkets, customers will read the label “natural mushroom extract” on products that use the preservative.

Since it first launched, Chinova has expanded from three employees to 11 and is planning to hire two more by the end of July.

“At that time it was very small and we didn’t know whether we would be running for the next four months or not,” said Huq. “The company is now growing really well.”

For now, the preservative will only be applied to food and beverages, but they are also looking at applying it to cosmetics in the next few years.

As a food scientist with a PhD, Huq has found the process challenging but fulfilling.

“I have been working with food for a long time,” she said. “All the time I’ve been looking [to create] something natural.”