Concept: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey scientists have developed a biodegradable, plant-based coating that can be sprayed on food to protect it from pathogenic and deteriorating microorganisms and transportation damage. The starch-based fiber aims to create eco-friendly substitutes for plastic food packaging and containers. Rutgers conducted research in collaboration with scientists at Harvard University to develop a scalable technology that transforms biopolymers into smart fibers for direct food wrapping.

Nature of Disruption: The researchers used polysaccharide or biopolymer-based fibers to develop this packaging technology. It employed focused rotary jet spinning technology to produce the biopolymer. The stringy material was spun from a heating appliance that resembles a hair dryer and shrink-wrapped over items of various shapes and sizes, such as an avocado or a sirloin steak. The resulting material protects food products from bruising and contains antimicrobial compounds to fight spoilage and harmful germs including listeria and E. coli. Quantitative analysis demonstrated a 50% increase in avocado’s shelf life. The researchers claim that the coating can be removed with water and can degrade in the soil in three days.

Outlook: Although plastic wraps and containers are good for keeping food fresh, most of them are discarded after use which frequently litters waterways. This has a direct impact on numerous environmental problems, such as overflowing landfills and greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to replace the current petroleum-based food packaging with more eco-friendly, non-toxic, and biodegradable alternatives. Rutgers conducted research to convert biopolymers to smart fibers enabling smart and green food packaging. The biopolymer can be obtained from food waste as part of a circular economy. This research was funded by the Harvard-Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Sustainable Nanotechnology Initiative.

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