Philadelphia — The future of food packaging may be dairy, dairy clear.
Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are developing a food packaging film made from the milk protein casein that is bio-based, biodegradable and edible.
Research leader Peggy Tomasula said the protein-based films are oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage, which would help to reduce food waste, and is up to 500 times more effective than currently traditional films. And at the same time, the film itself does not clog up the waste stream.
Or, users could just eat the film along with the food.
“We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers,” said study co-leader Laetitia Bonnaillie. “For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic — we would like to change that.”
Early studies produced a film that was difficult to handle and dissolved in water too easily. Researchers made improvements by adding citrus pectin.
Existing biodegradable films on the market made of starch are more porous, allowing oxygen through microholes, the researchers said in an Aug. 21 news release.
Because the film can be dissolved in water, there also is potential to use it to wrap single-serve items such as coffee or soups, with individual packets dropped into boiling water, disposing of the packaging at the same time as heating up the food.
In addition, the protein can be made into a coating that could be sprayed onto food such as cereal flakes, which are currently coated with sugar to keep them crunchy in milk, the researchers said.
Individual food packets using the milk protein would still need to be packaged in cardboard or larger plastic packages to prevent them from dissolving if they got wet.
The Department of Agriculture scientists presented their research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia Aug. 22.