Edible food wrappers: Is this an innovation that can make a difference?
Edible food wrappers as a potential replacement for plastic packaging has been explored by a number of innovators in recent years. However, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) believe they have made a significant breakthrough in terms of enhancing the performance characteristics of biodegradable alternatives creating a film using milk protein.
The USDA group, which is led by researchers Peggy Tomasula and Laetitia Bonnaillie, has utilised a specific protien found in milk called casein mixing it with salts and citrus pectin to produce a strong and moist-resistant material that apparently looks similar to cling film, but is fully edible.
Not as stretchy as regular plastic wrapping, but strong enough to package products, the researchers also claim that the casein film is several hundred times better at keeping oxygen away from food than traditional plastic solutions. This is a significant advantage compared with the current starch based biodegradable alternatives in the marketplace.
The initial market opportunity for these edible food wrappers appears to be in single-serve packages of food, things like cheese slices, meats and other smaller snacks. A lot of plastic is used to wrap these products, which have a very short life and are never re-wrapped or packaged.
Of course, the economics of this innovation remain relatively unresolved, it’s unclear whether there will ever be a time when casein protein can be harnessed at scale and in a way that is cost competitive. It’s also debatable for how long the fact that these products are edible will be promoted. The edibility factor is perhaps more a way of emphasising the non-toxicity and biodegradability of these solutions, both of which represent a significant advantage over traditional plastics.
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