Researchers develop spray-on food wrap


Wednesday, 22 June, 2022

Researchers develop spray-on food wrap

Scientists have developed a biodegradable, plant-based coating that can be sprayed on food as an alternative to plastic packaging. The antimicrobial food-safe spray uses starch-based fibres to protect food from spoilage and prevent damage during transport.

The finding came about from Harvard University and Rutgers University researchers looking for more sustainable ways of keeping foods fresh. The scientists said the coating could reduce the environment impact caused by food packaging.

“We knew we needed to get rid of the petroleum-based food packaging that is out there and replace it with something more sustainable, biodegradable and nontoxic,” said Philip Demokritou, Director of the Nanoscience and Advanced Materials Research Center, and the Henry Rutgers Chair in Nanoscience and Environmental Bioengineering at the Rutgers School of Public Health and Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute. “And we asked ourselves at the same time, ‘Can we design food packaging with a functionality to extend shelf life and reduce food waste while enhancing food safety?’

“And what we have come up with is a scalable technology, which enables us to turn biopolymers, which can be derived as part of a circular economy from food waste, into smart fibres that can wrap food directly. This is part of new-generation, ‘smart’ and ‘green’ food packaging.”

The study describing the food coating was published in Nature Food. The coating itself is composed of polysaccharide/biopolymer-based fibres and is spun from a hairdryer-like machine that shrink-wraps food. The research showed that foods covered with the material, which integrates natural antimicrobial substances like thyme oil, citric acid and nisin, were able to stay fresh for at least 50% longer than uncovered foods.

The coating can be washed off foods with water and degrades in soil within three days.

“I’m not against plastics,” Demokritou said. “I’m against petroleum-based plastics that we keep throwing out there because only a tiny portion of them can be recycled.

“Over the past 50 to 60 years, during the Age of Plastic, we’ve placed 6 billion metric tons of plastic waste into our environment. They are out there degrading slowly. And these tiny fragments are making it into the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Lsantilli

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