Researchers at the US Department of Agriculture have developed a new environmentally friendly film made of a milk protein, casein, in a bid to reduce food waste and replace plastic wraps.
Presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, the newly developed films can protect food from harmful elements nearly 500 times more effectively than other plastics.
The milk protein-based films are edible, and possess biodegradable and sustainable features.
Similar to other commercially available plastic wraps, the new wrap is less stretchy and more resistant to humidity and high temperatures.
Research leader Peggy Tomasula said: “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.”
Various nutritious additives including vitamins, probiotics and nutraceuticals as well as flavours could be added to the new film in the future.
Research co-leader Laetitia Bonnaillie 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.”
The casein-based coating can be used in plastic pouches and wraps, and sprayed onto food , such as cereal flakes or bars.
The research group is currently creating prototype film samples for a small firm in Texas, US.
Bonnaillie said that the research group is planning to bring the casein-based packaging to the market within three years.