Reducing Plastic Waste With Edible Food Packaging
Even though recycling is on the rise, landfills are growing as more people buy processed foods packaged in non-recyclable materials. Thin plastic films that keep fruits, vegetables, meat, and poultry fresh can wreak havoc on the environment, so scientists are trying to find an eco-friendlier alternative. Many researchers believe that edible food packaging could be the answer.
What is Edible Food Packaging Made Of?
The primary goal of food packaging film is to keep moisture and air away from the food and protect it from micro-organisms that can cause spoilage. Traditionally, manufacturers have used plastic to fulfill this function. However, new sugars, proteins, and fats materials could perform the same process.
Scientists are developing methods for manufacturing protective films from natural sugars, namely cellulose, starch, pectin (from citrus), and alginate (from seaweed). They have also successfully created edible films from soy protein, whey, collagen, corn, and wheat gluten. These protein-based films are usually more successful in protecting food from oxygen and moisture than their sugar-based alternatives.
Lastly, scientists can use fats and oils to enhance the structure of an edible packaging film. Essential oils help to create a protective moisture barrier, and many of them, such as rosemary or cinnamon oil, have antimicrobial properties. Adding these oils to food packaging can enhance their functionality, helping them keep food from mold and bacteria longer.
How Edible Packaging Could Revolutionize the Food Industry
Technological advances in the packaging industry have helped our growing population meet the demand for fresh food since the industrial revolution. As more people turn to clean labels and organic ingredients, ditching plastic packaging becomes a high priority for eco-friendly brands.
Switching to an edible film reduces non-recyclable plastic waste in our landfills and oceans. It can save birds and animals from plastic-related injuries and deaths and prevent toxic chemicals from leaching into our soil and water sources.
Plus, it can assist us in the fight against food waste. Research shows1 that using edible films to protect fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, and fish from spoilage in supermarkets and storehouses can extend their shelf life dramatically. It can keep produce looking fresher for longer too, making fresh food more appealing to shoppers and reducing the amount of unsold stock store owners throw away.
Challenges With Edible Food Packaging and How To Overcome Them
While new biotechnology can be exciting, reaching the mainstream often takes a long time. Edible films for food still face many challenges, such as safety and regulation, high costs, manufacturing limitations, and consumer acceptance.
While small batches have been successful, producing edible films commercially is still a challenge. Manufacturers will need to make larger film sheets while maintaining consistent thicknesses if they hope to introduce them to the market.
According to US legislation, edible films are considered food ingredients and must have FDA approval before being released to the general public. Many films contain nanomaterials that have not been studied enough to prove their safety for human consumption. However, research is promising, and additional funding could help scientists find an eco-friendly edible film that is safe for people and the planet shortly.
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