Sep
05
2007

Film on food: Biodegradable coatings could be new safeguards

Safer strawberries: Yanyun Zhao, a food technologist at Oregon State University, coats fresh strawberries with a new antimicrobial film that keeps mold away and keeps the berries ripe longer. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)
Safer strawberries: Yanyun Zhao, a food technologist at Oregon State University, coats fresh strawberries with a new antimicrobial film that keeps mold away and keeps the berries ripe longer. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)
We’ve all done it. That leftover food gets wrapped up in tight-fitting plastic wrap to be safely stored in the fridge to be eaten another day.

But what if we wrapped up our food before it was even cooked the first time?

Researchers are working with the concept right now, finding ways to use natural-occurring germ and disease fighters into thin films and powders that could coat our foods before they get to our dinner table. If they’re successful, we could have safe materials coating our foods that could keep them safe from E. coli, salmonella or other food-borne health problems.

Here’s just one idea: strawberries could be coated with a soup-like material made from egg proteins and shrimp shells. That coating would deflect molds from growing on the berries and leave them to be riper for a longer period of time. Likewise, a film made up of a weave of thyme derivatives – which can kill E. coli – could be used in the lining of spinach bags, ending the health alerts like we’ve recently heard about for that vegetable.

Film for food: A continuous biodegradable protein film begins to form using the new ARS film-making process. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Film for food: A continuous biodegradable protein film begins to form using the new ARS film-making process. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)
The films are made from a variety of natural products that will dissolve in water. And in some cases, they can even be manipulated to carry flavors, although the big push is to make them flavorless so that the coated food’s natural flavor comes through.

To most researchers’ knowledge, none of these new coatings is being used in food products being offered in our stores today. But they’re coming fast. Patents have been applied for and business agreements are being drawn up with food companies to start using this new concept.

Have you ever tried one of those new breath-freshening strips or cough drop film? They look like a piece of tapes, you pop them in your mouth and they quickly dissolve to carry their payload into your mouth. These new food films are just like that. In fact, researchers say consumers should be much more likely to embrace this idea if they’ve tried those products already on the market.

It’s not a radical new idea as it might sound. Wax has been used as a coating on apples and aspirin for a long time. Some frozen pizzas have a thin layer on film over their crusts to keep the pizza sauce from seeping into it before the pizza is cooked.

So what do you think? Would you eat food with thin film on it if you knew it would be safer food? I think this is pretty much a no-brainer “yes” to me. Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Yeah sure you could rap it in plastic rap but just dipping it in food is dumm but if they are going to do it so be it

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 6:30pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

why would you eat plastic even if you could make it better, how would you know it was better?

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 6:31pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I would never eat plastic

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 8:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Film coatings are on approximtely 97% of all the foods you presently comsume. Parts of these give and enhance the colors, make your food safer by fighting various bacteria and preserving these foods for a longer shelf life. It is not plastic as you commonly think of, yet it is a plastisicer that assist in holding the coatings to the food and protects it. The science of film coatings is truly facinating if you simply take a few minutes to do a bit of research on it.

posted on Sun, 10/21/2007 - 7:30pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What do we know? we've only been eating like we do for the past few millenia. Adding another man made thing into our diet shouldn't hurt us, right? Look at sacharin, and that stuff they make artificial sugar out of. It just takes our bodies a little more time to break it down is all. And the long term effects, who cares? It gives the chemical companies something more to make profits on in the future. And in the end, that is what's important........ Right?

posted on Sat, 11/10/2007 - 6:53pm

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