Spray-On, Rinse-Off Food 'Wrapper' Can Cut Plastic Packaging

Fri, 24 Jun 2022 05:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

The coating deters microorganisms to fight both food waste and foodborne illness

Packaging is essential for preserving and distributing many kinds of foods, but it often incorporates plastic-scraps of which already litter too much of the planet, posing a threat to wildlife and contaminating drinking water and soil.

Now researchers say they have developed a nontoxic, biodegradable and antimicrobial food coating that could reduce food waste and foodborne illness without adding plastic to the environment.

Protecting edible items from bacteria and other microorganisms reduces spoilage, which is a major factor in food being tossed out.

Packing food to preserve it also adds massively to environmental plastic.

"Food packaging is definitely enemy number one when it comes to plastic pollution," says Win Cowger, an environmental scientist at the Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research, who was not involved in the new study.

"We can see globally that food packaging is the most abundant plastic material in the environment." Although the new coating would only replace a portion of the packaging out there-it would not touch some of the greatest offenders, such as water bottles and coffee cup lids-Cowger says any step toward reducing plastic pollution is a good one.

That's because of its primary ingredient: pullulan, an edible fiber that is "Generally recognized as safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The study researchers used a manufacturing system called focused rotary jet spinning, or FRJS, to generate antimicrobial-laced fibers and apply them to food.

FRJS-developed in study co-author and bioengineer Kit Parker's Harvard lab, where Chang is a researcher-was not originally designed for food applications.

Other attempts at plastic-free food packaging have involved cellulose-based films; these cannot be rinsed off and some even need to be recycled.

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