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Will Edible Coatings Soon Replace Plastic, Cardboard and Glass Packaging on Your Foods?

Most food at the supermarket is packaged using vacuum packing, nitrogen sweeping and aluminum foil to keep food fresh inside the familiar plastic and cardboard packages, but soon this may all change.

edible coating

Edible coatings could one day add flavors, extra vitamins and food-poisoning protection to everyday foods.

Researchers are developing edible coatings that, they say, could help reduce packaging materials, keep foods fresh longer and make them look more attractive. The coatings are either flexible and see-through, similar to the thin strips now sold as breath fresheners, or clear and glossy films.

The idea is that the coatings, which are made from things like whey protein isolate (WPI), mesquite gum and starch, keep oxygen, water and oils where they belong, extending shelf-life and preventing rancidity.

Anti-Microbial, Flavor-Enhancing Packages?

Currently, edible coatings are used on fruits like apples, but one day researchers hope to use the films on a wide array of foods, including those high in polysaturated fatty acids, making them highly perishable (nuts, meat, salmon, etc.), and those that are very fragile, like breakfast cereal.

Aside from keeping food fresh and protected, the coatings also hold the possibility of containing antimicrobians that could kill food-borne pathogens, or even add to a food's flavor, such as an apple coating that would form a glaze on a ham when it was cooked. One day, food coatings may even contain extra nutrients like vitamin E or calcium to enhance a food's nutritional value.

Does a Lot of Your Food
Come in Packages?

packaged foods

Most food sold in packages is processed, and not the best thing to center your diet around -- even if the package claims the food is healthy. If you want to know how healthy of an eater you really are, you can take this quiz now and find out:

How Healthy are
Your Eating Habits?

Another interesting application? Edible sealed pouches that contain a measured amount of ingredient such as flour that could be thrown directly into a mixer, eliminating the need to measure while baking.

Problems With Traditional Food Packaging

The move toward edible packaging has stemmed largely from the demand for healthier, more environmentally friendly foods. Current packaging practices use plasticizers and other synthetic chemical compounds that are not always biodegradable -- or entirely safe.

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), for instance, which are used in food packaging to keep fats and oils from going rancid, have been found by some studies to cause cancer in rats.

Some food packaging also contains pesticides and other additives, which can be transferred to your food. In fact, substances transferred to food via packaging belong to the category of "incidental additives" that do not have to be listed on food nutrition labels.

Traditional packaging isn't going to disappear anytime soon, though. Edible coatings are still in the developmental stages, poised to make a major impact in the future of food packaging.

Recommended Reading

12 Dangerous Food Additives: The Dirty Dozen Food Additives You Really Need to be Aware Of

How Many Insect Parts and Rodent Hairs are Allowed in Your Food?


Science Daily September 6, 2006

Organic Consumers Association

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