Rutgers scientists have developed a new, more environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic food wrap.
Their idea is a spray-on, plant-based coating that’s both biodegradable and can protect against transportation damage, spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms.
Their invention, published in Nature Food, works “like the webs cast by the Marvel comic book character Spider-Man”.
They created a stringy material that can be spun from a heating device that looks like a hair dryer. That material can be applied over food to protect it from damage while in transport or in the store, a more sustainable option than traditional plastic.
“The resulting material that encases food products is sturdy enough to protect against bruising and contains antimicrobial agents to fight spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms such as E. coli and listeria.
The research paper includes a description of the technology called focused rotary jet spinning, a process by which the biopolymer is produced, and quantitative assessments showing the coating extended the shelf life of avocados by 50 percent. The coating can be rinsed off with water and degrades in soil within three days, according to the study,” the report says.
The material is made using antimicrobial pullulan (a polysaccharide) fibers, which are then laced with naturally occurring antimicrobial ingredients, like thyme oil, citric acid and nisin.
“[…]What we have come up with is a scalable technology, which enables us to turn biopolymers, which can be derived as part of a circular economy from food waste, into smart fibers that can wrap food directly. This is part of new generation, ‘smart’ and ‘green’ food packaging,” said Philip Demokritou, director of the Nanoscience and Advanced Materials Research Center, and the Henry Rutgers Chair in Nanoscience and Environmental Bioengineering at the Rutgers School of Public Health and Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.