Edible Food Packaging - The Future of Food Industry

Health In Focus   - G J E 4
  • Most food packaging materials are non-biodegradable and non-recyclable
  • Plastic food packaging creates tons of waste and affects the environment
  • Edible food packaging film helps prevent such harmful effects
  • Milk-based edible films are 500 times better than plastic food wrappers
Food items that are consumed within minutes leave behind the packaging on the Earth for years. Most of the food products sold are wrapped in plastic packaging, which is a non-recyclable and non-biodegradable waste. Studies have shown that some plastic packaging could leach harmful compounds into food.

Food industries and scientists have been working together to find a solution to reduce food packaging waste. How about food packaging that one could actually consume? A group of scientists have developed edible packaging film made of milk proteins.

‘Edible food packaging film made from milk protein casein is sustainable and biodegradable. The casein protein can also be sprayed onto cereals to maintain its crunchiness.’

Eat the Food and the Package

A research team at the US Department of Agriculture have developed an eco-friendly edible film made from milk protein casein. The milk-based casein films keep oxygen away from food and are 500 times better than plastics. Casein films are biodegradable, sustainable and edible.

"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," says research leader Peggy Tomasula, D.Sc.

Edible packaging varieties are already available in the market, but, these are made of starch. Starch-based edible food packaging is more porous and allows oxygen to seep through its micro-holes. The milk-based edible packaging has smaller pores and creates a tighter network that keeps oxygen out.

Edible Food Packaging - The Future of Food Industry

Researchers first developed an edible film using pure casein that was a strong and effective oxygen blocker. But, it was hard to handle as it dissolved in water instantly. So the researchers used citrus pectin to the casein to make the packaging stronger and resistant to humidity and high temperatures.

The casein-based packaging looks similar to a plastic wrap, but it is less stretchy and blocks oxygen more efficiently. Because the casein film is made of proteins, the researchers hope to incorporate nutritional additives such as vitamins, probiotics, and nutraceuticals. The researchers said that the casein film does not have a taste, but flavoring can be added to it to make it appetizing.

Laetitia Bonnaillie, Ph.D., co-leader of the study, said, "The coatings applications for this product are endless. 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."

Casein Coating Spray

Casein coating could also be sprayed onto food such as cereal bars and flakes. Food manufacturing industries use sugar coating on cereals to maintain its crunch when added to milk. Casein spray could be a nutritious alternative to sugar and prevent soggy cereal.

The casein spray could also be used to line pizza boxes to keep the grease from staining the packaging. It can also be used as a lamination for paper and cardboard food boxes and plastic pouches. Perfluorinated substances that are used to coat food boxes have been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration. Thus, casein coating can be utilized as a safe and biodegradable alternative.

"Currently, the team is creating prototype film samples for a small company in Texas, and the development has garnered interest among other companies, too. We plan to keep making improvements. This casein packaging will be on store shelves within three years," said Bonnaillie.

  1. Edible food packaging made from milk proteins (video) - (
Source: Medindia

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