Here's a food wrapper you can eat The casein film can either be used as wrappers, like this, or it can be sprayed onto food. (USDA) (USDA/AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Here's a food wrapper you can eat
Lexile

Consider the cheese stick. It is not a beautiful food. It also isn't particularly healthy. Cheese sticks are about as commonplace as snack food gets.
 
Yet in the packaged version that ends up in so many kids' lunch boxes, each cylinder of mozzarella or cheddar is individually wrapped, like a high-end truffle. And, every day, thousands of those little pieces of plastic wrap are thrown in the trash.
 
But that may not be the case for long.
 
Two researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have developed a film made from a milk protein. The film can be eaten with the cheese. Which means that it may not be too long before we have a wrapper we can eat. It also could be healthy. Edible plastic exists, but it's largely made of starch, not protein.

"The benefit," says Peggy Tomasula, one of the lead researchers, "is that it can be consumed with the food so it gets rid of one layer of packaging, like with individually wrapped cheese sticks. It also gives you the opportunity to add vitamins or minerals or ways to block light damage to the food. And, you can add flavors. If you wanted to add a strawberry flavor to something, you can embed that in the film."
 
The key component in the innovative packaging is casein, a group of milk proteins with high nutritional value. Tomasula has been researching casein since 2000, and actually created a new version of the protein using carbon dioxide. She noticed that it wasn't very soluble in water, and that made her believe it might be used to make a film coating that could extend the shelf life of dairy foods.
 
Tomasula kept exploring the potential of this research and when another scientist, Laetitia Bonnaillie, joined the USDA team, Tomasula asked her to see if dry milk could be used to produce the film. That would also allow them to make use of surplus milk powder during times when dairy farms are producing too much milk. Bonnaillie also focused on refining the product by making it less sensitive to moisture and improving the process by which the film was made so it could be more uniform and commercial.
 
At the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, they announced the results of their efforts. It is edible, biodegradable packaging. The casein film could either come in sheets, not unlike plastic wrap, or be sprayed on as a coating. And, it's been found to be significantly more effective at blocking oxygen than ordinary plastic wrap, so it can protect food from spoiling for a much longer period of time.
 
There would be some limitations, at least initially.
 
"This would mostly be for dairy products or foods that would likely be used with dairy, like cereal," says Tomasula. "We wouldn't put this on fruits and vegetables in a market. You couldn't do that because of milk allergies. There would have to be labeling to let people know it's milk protein."
 
Also, this wouldn't mean that all packaging would be eliminated for cheese and other dairy products. They would still need to be covered in some way, in a box or packet to keep the food from getting dirty or exposed to too much moisture. But dispensing with the individual wrapping around each food item could mean a lot less plastic would end up in landfills. By some estimates, it can take as long as 1,000 years for plastic to degrade. And, unfortunately, less than a third of the plastic Americans throw away actually gets recycled. 
 
The idea, said Bonnaillie, is to create different versions of the casein film. One might be very soluble, making it better suited for a product you dissolve in water. Another could be considerably less soluble so it would be more resistant to moisture and work better as protective packaging.
 
"We are trying things with the extremes," she says. "We've just started exploring applications. There are many more things we can do."
 
Say so long to sugar?
 
For instance, instead of tearing open a paper container to make instant coffee or soup, you could just drop a casein packet of the ingredients into water where everything would dissolve. Plus, extra protein would be added.
 
But food companies might actually prefer a spray version of the product. "That way they could store a mixture of the particular milk proteins in water, and then make the coatings and spray them on when they're processing the food," says Tomasula.
 
One possibility would be to spray the protein film on cereal, which generally is coated with sugar to keep it crunchy. "It could be fat-free, a healthier way to replace a process that's now largely done with sugar," says Bonnaillie.
 
Tomasula adds: "We're hoping that for something like meal replacement bars we can make the edible wrapping taste like chocolate. We could combine the ingredients together and provide a little more nutrition."
 
Tomasula and Bonnaillie say they've already been working with some companies, and believe their edible packaging could be on the market within three years.
 
Another good sign: Since their announcement in August, they've been contacted by what they describe as "two major companies."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why isn't this a “perfect” solution?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (39)
  • jennam-dia
    9/21/2016 - 11:55 a.m.

    I don't think that this is a perfect solution because you don't know how many people have touched and it is not very sanitary. It also probably doesn't taste good.

  • bmaria-dav
    9/21/2016 - 07:42 p.m.

    In response to "Here's a food wrapper that you can eat," I agree that it is a good idea to make an edible wrapper. One reason I agree is that it would be better for the environment if less plastic wrappers were thrown into landfills. Another reason is that food would spoil less often with this wrapper. It says in the article "is that it can be consumed with the food so it gets rid of one layer of packaging, like with individually wrapped cheese sticks. It also gives you the opportunity to add vitamins or minerals or ways to block light damage to the food. You can save a lot of money by using this wrapper. A third reason you can even get some more dairy, and vitamins into your body by eating this wrap because its made out of some sort of milk powder. Even though if you have allergies to milk, you might not like this idea, but I think this idea will save the environment.
    _______________________.

  • jamesb2-moo
    9/22/2016 - 02:13 p.m.

    It isn't a "perfect" solution because the wrapper itself would still be covered anyway.

  • chaset1-moo
    9/22/2016 - 02:17 p.m.

    This isn't a "perfect" solution because it can't be wrapped on everything because some kids are allergic to dairy and you still need to box it and some companies may not think its worth the rush if you still have to box it.

  • hjake-dav
    9/22/2016 - 04:01 p.m.

    In response to this article about eating your own cheese stick wrappers, I think it's a wonderful idea! First, eating the edible wrapper, which would be high in protein and calcium because of the milk, would be healthy. They are also adding vitamins or minerals to the snack. Secondly, It would free up a lot of garbage. So many wrappers go into the landfill, which poisons the air when they have to burn it. Thirdly, it would keep the food clean, and you don't even have to struggle getting the wrapper off the cheese! Although this isn't a perfect solution, because of using up materials, and maybe putting the edible wrappers on most foods would cause the consumer to get sick, because of the over-dose in minerals and vitamins, which could be bad for, like taking to many vitamins gummies or pills. So this might not be the best solution, it would still be useful on dairy products like cheese.

  • gmandy-dav
    9/22/2016 - 06:01 p.m.

    In response to "Here's a food wrapper you can eat
    ," I disagree that "possibility would be to spray the protein film on cereal, which generally is coated with sugar to keep it crunchy." One reason I disagree is that I don't think it would be protein to be coated with sugar, it really depends how much sugar they add in. It says in the article it can take as long as 1,000 years for plastic to degrade. I think that is not so good, We should defiantly make editable wrappers to help the earth not use so much plastic. Even though I didn't really agree on one small idea, doesn't mean i don't LOVE the idea for editable wrappers!

  • jlilly-dav
    9/22/2016 - 06:18 p.m.

    In response to "Here's a food wrapper I can eat," I agree/disagree that there should be a edible rapper . One reason I disagree is that its suppose to be healthy but its mainly made out of starch . A reason it's good is that most kids litter their trash and with the edible wrappers that wouldn't need to happen. It says in the article "We wouldn't put this on fruits and vegetables in a market. You couldn't do that because of milk allergies" (and if they use the wrappers the milk product could spread to other foods through the store). A third reason its dairy on top of dairy and that's not healthy. Even though its a good idea to solve kids littering for cheese wrappers, I think not having edible wrappers is better.
    _______________________.

  • madilyn-dav
    9/22/2016 - 07:43 p.m.

    In response to "Here's a Food Wrapper You Can Eat," I agree that wrappers should be edible. One reason I agree is that too many pieces of plastic are being thrown away and some of it isn't being recycled. If you had an edible wrapper, that would reduce the amount of plastic being thrown away. Another reason is that the wrappers can provide extra nutrients that plastic wrappers don't provide. It says in the article "it can be consumed with the food so it gets rid of one layer of packaging, like with individually wrapped cheese sticks. It also gives you the opportunity to add vitamins or minerals or ways to block light damage to the food." A third reason is the edible wrappers will keep the food from spoiling so it will last longer. The article says that "it's been found to be notably more effective at blocking oxygen than ordinary plastic wrap. So it can protect food from spoiling for a much longer period of time." Even though it will be a little weird to eat the wrapper along with the actual food, I think eating edible wrappers is very healthy for the environment and ourselves.

  • hmadison-dav
    9/22/2016 - 08:18 p.m.

    In response to "Here's a food wrapper you can eat" I agree that we could eat the edible wrapper on cheese sticks. One reason I agree is that it would be very convenient to eat the wrapper. Instead of having to take off the wrapper you could just eat it. Another reason is that, according to the article,"It may not be too long before we have a wrapper we can eat. It also could be healthy." If it could be healthy it can benefit you. Like the phrase " the healthier the better." A third reason we could eat these edible wrappers is because it can keep it fresher. According to the article, "it's been found to be significantly more effective at blocking oxygen than ordinary plastic wrap, so it can protect food from spoiling for a much longer period of time." We can keep these dairy products for a longer amount of time than any ordinary wrapped product. Even though eating this edible wrapper might not be the greatest tasting thing, I think we could still eat these edible wrappers with our packaged dairy foods.

  • sayida-dav
    9/22/2016 - 08:57 p.m.

    In response to "Here's a food wrapper you can eat," I agree that making films edible, there will be less individual wrappers. One reason I agree is that when you eat a plain snack food like, the cheese sticks,the film can be a good flavor resource. Another reason is that it's just plain fun to eat wrappers with your friends. It says in the article that the edible films will only be on dairy items like, cereal. A third reason you can trick little kids by eating it in front of them. Even though the films are mostly made with sugar, I think
    it'll still be a pleasure to eat.

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