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We talk a lot about just how much food is wasted. Actually, the number is staggering – about 40 percent of all our foods. Then there is the issue of the environment, and just how much food packaging goes into the trash.
A team of biomedical engineers at Tufts University has found the answers to both problems: a spray that coats food with an almost invisible layer of fibroin, a protein found in silk, which helps make it one of nature’s toughest materials. The spray keeps food fresh for much longer. In a study of strawberries and bananas, the sprayed fruits were stored at room temperature, 71 degrees Fahrenheit, and compared with the same fruits that were not sprayed.
After nine days, the flesh of the coated bananas was still white, tasty and strong. When researchers placed a 200-gram weight above the bananas, it didn’t sink into the coated bananas, but went right through the flesh in the uncoated ones.
As reported on ZME Science, the technology could realistically be implemented in the food industry, as silk fibroin “is generally considered flavorless and odorless, which are compelling properties for food coating and packaging applications”.
Edible packaging has been long tested, and while there have been a few breakthroughs, it hasn’t become pervasive.
Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto, lead researcher, said that he wants the world to move “towards processes that are more efficient and more naturally derived,” and develop materials that “are closer to the things that surround us, rather than having more man-made, processed materials … for the general well-being of our planet”. Using a renewable and nonpolluting resource instead of plastic is certainly a step in the right direction. Certainly, eliminating packaging trash and extending shelf life may be the answer.