Silk coating on food has the potential to increase shelf-life by as much as 200%
A recent discovery by MIT scientists shows that using silk as food coating significantly extends the shelf-life of all sorts of perishable goods. The groundbreaking technology offers broad impact on prolonging the shelf life of whole foods, cut produce, fish, meat, fruits, and other agricultural products.
Silk fibroin, like collagen, is a structural protein. Its uniqueness, however, is that it is produced by a living complex organism. As a biomaterial, it has been widely investigated for its uses on textile, biomedical, and electronic applications.
Using silk as natural organic food coating opens up new opportunities in addressing the issue of food waste. Most importantly, silk coating is easy and more cost effective to integrate into existing food processing lines and requires minimal modifications on current equipment.
How was silk coating discovered?
Benedetto Marelli discovered the novel use of silk as coating for food. Marelli is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a post doctorate at Omenetto Lab of Tuft’s University.
Marelli was preparing for a cooking competition that requires the incorporation of silk in a dish. He inadvertently left a silk-dipped strawberry on his bench. One week after, upon returning to his lab, the MIT scientist found out that the coated strawberries were still edible. This prompted him to do more tests which later led to the discovery of the use of silk to extend the shelf life of food.
Marelli believes that the use of silk coating can expand global access to fresh food, enable the development and innovation of new food products, and improve the efficiencies of local and global supply chains.
Solving food waste with simple solution
Statistics show that one third of food supply globally is wasted each year. Ironically, ten percent of the world population faces serious hunger issues.
Food waste is a massive global problem that affects both industrialized and developing nations. It has serious implications on people’s health and the economies of countries around the world. For decades, scientists tried to extend the shelf life of fresh food through genetic modifications or by using packaging materials that are harmful to the environment.
The discovery of organic silk coating can mitigate the numerous problems faced by the food industry without changing the natural properties of food.
How silk coating on food works?
Marelli’s company, Cambridge Crops, uses a simple process utilizing salt and water to isolate and reform the natural protein of silk. The coating deposits itself on the surface of fresh food. It then forms a tasteless, odorless, and imperceptible barrier around the food and slows down natural degradation.
Depending on the type of product, the silk coating has the ability to increase shelf life by almost 200 percent. Through this technology, food waste can be reduced significantly. It can also reduce the pressure on supply chains and allows shippers to use transportation that has less carbon footprint.