A biobased coating to protect fruit from spoilage

Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and grocery store chain Lidl Switzerland developed a biobased, cellulose protective coating for fruits and vegetables to protect them from spoilage.

Plastic packaging in grocery stores protects fruits and vegetable from spoilage. While not all fruits and vegetables need plastic, such as oranges and lemons, which already have a protective peel, the cucumber for example is aided by a plastic wrapper. The plastic protects the cucumber from drying out and staying crisp longer, which reduces the risk of being tossed.

Researchers at Empa researched the carbon footprint of a cucumber, travelling from the producer in Spain to a Swiss supermarket. According to this, the plastic wrapping accounts for only 1% of the environmental impact caused by production and transport. This means that the positive effect of less food waste is five times higher than the negative effect from packaging.

Nonetheless, plastic wrap is hard to recycle and contributes to the growing pile of plastic waste. In addition, France is the first country to ban plastic wrapping for produce to reduce plastic waste.

To protect fruits and vegetables from spoilage, but not rely on fossil-based plastic, Empa and Lidl developed a protective, transparant coating. The cover is made of so-called pomace. Pomace is the solid residue left over after extracting the juice from fruit, vegetables or plants. Previously, this plant leftover was disposed of in biogas plants or directly on the field.

The coating is either sprayed onto the fruit or applied to the produce as a dip and is easy to wash off. It is harmless to consume. It performs a similar function as a plastic wrap, by keeping produce fresh fro longer. The shelf life of a banana, for example, was extended by more than a week.

The coating is similar to Apeel (read about this here), but said to be simpler to make and less expensive.

Photos: Empa