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Milk may replace plastic when it comes to wrapping our food

The best way to protect your leftover food? By wrapping it in more food. According to new research presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), we’ll soon be doing away with that pesky cling wrap that seems to stick to everything but what you’re trying to cover (and apparently, doesn’t do that great of a job of keeping your food from spoiling, either).

Instead, we’ll be turning to “an environmentally friendly film made of the milk protein casein,” which is purportedly “500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food.” And best of all, because they’re derived from milk, these wrappings are biodegradable, sustainable, and in fact edible.

“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,” said research leader Peggy Tomasula.

While there are currently a few edible packaging solutions available, many of them are made of starch, which researchers say is more porous, allowing oxygen to seep into the food it ought to be protecting. But because the milk-based packaging has smaller holes, it also boasts a tighter network to keep out unwanted oxygen. Moreover, the casein-based packaging looks much like the plastic wrap we’re used to, though it’s a bit less flexible, and of course, totally edible.

Moving forward, scientists are considering adding vitamins, probiotics, and nutraceuticals, so you could potentially encase your leftovers with nutrients. And while the milk wrapping currently doesn’t taste like much, researchers say that flavors could also be introduced.

“The coatings applications for this product are endless,” said Laetitia Bonnaillie, the co-leader of the study. “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 could also be used to line pizza boxes or keep cereal crunchy. Because everything’s better when it’s organic and biodegradable, right?

Bonnaillie and her team are currently in the process of creating prototypes for a company in Texas, and have also seen interest from other groups. And in around three years, she says, this milk-based wrapping will be ready to hit a supermarket shelf near you.

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