Magazine article Newsweek

Edible Food Wrappers Could Reduce Plastic Waste and Keep Food Fresher; Researchers Are Developing Food Packaging Made from Casein That Is Edible, Biodegradable and More Oxygen-Resistant Than Plastic Wrappers

Magazine article Newsweek

Edible Food Wrappers Could Reduce Plastic Waste and Keep Food Fresher; Researchers Are Developing Food Packaging Made from Casein That Is Edible, Biodegradable and More Oxygen-Resistant Than Plastic Wrappers

Article excerpt

Byline: Stav Ziv

School cafeterias have long been the setting for raucous debates over a very important question: How do you eat string cheese? The short sticks of cheese individually wrapped in single servings have stirred hostility for years between the stringers and the biters. But in the near future, the conversation might have an entirely new focus: a wrapper you can bite right into and eat along with the cheese.

Researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture are developing packaging made from casein, a protein found in milk. The biodegradable film is not only completely edible--even nutritious, with the extra protein it would provide--but also able to protect oxygen-sensitive food from spoiling longer than a standard plastic film by blocking oxygen roughly 250 times better. Plus, it could reduce plastic waste.

Research leader Peggy Tomasula, research scientist Laetitia Bonnaillie and their colleagues have been experimenting with types of casein, additives and processes to produce films for a variety of uses. When it arrives at their lab, casein is in powdered form. They add water and, since it's not particularly soluble, use a magnetic stirrer to mix it for two hours. They then add glycerol, an edible compound that acts as a plasticizer, making the film more flexible so it won't snap when you bend it. In some cases, they add citrus pectin, derived from citrus peels, to make the packaging stronger and more durable in humidity and higher temperatures. After vacuuming the bubbles from the solution, they spread it on a silicone baking mat, like one you might buy at a kitchenware store, and let it dry in a chamber calibrated to have a consistent temperature and humidity. Once the sheet is dry, they peel it off and let it sit for about a week before testing it.

The researchers won't yet reveal the full slate of possible applications while patents are pending. …

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