US - Plastic food packaging is unsustainable, creates a lot of non-biodegradable waste, and is not that good at preventing spoilage, but scientists may have found a new solution in the form of milk proteins.
The researchers presented their work at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) last week.
"The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain," said research leader Peggy Tomasula.
To create an all-around better packaging solution, Ms Tomasula and colleagues at the US Department of Agriculture are developing an environmentally friendly film made of the milk protein casein.
These casein-based films are up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food and, because they are derived from milk, are biodegradable, sustainable and edible.
Although the researchers' first attempt using pure casein resulted in a strong and effective oxygen blocker, it was relatively hard to handle and would dissolve in water too quickly. They made some improvements by incorporating citrus pectin into the blend.
After a few additional improvements, this casein-based packaging looks similar to store-bought plastic wrap, but it is less stretchy and is better at blocking oxygen.
"The coatings applications for this product are endless," said Laetitia Bonnaillie, PhD, co-leader of the study. "We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic - we would like to fix that."
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