We're all familiar with those shiny plastic films that keep our meats fresh, or at least fresher, and also enclose breads, cheeses and even fresh vegetables. But there are drawbacks to those films — they don't degrade and thus stay in our landfills forever. They're petroleum products — from non-renewable resources, and they're not really that good at preventing spoilage, since they're too permeable to oxygen, which can oxidize fats. Food scientists have come to the rescue, they reported Monday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society (a video explains it here).
Basically, the new film is made from the milk protein casein plus pectin — a complex carbohydrate extracted from citrus fruits. Dr. Peggy M. Tomasula from the USDA and colleagues carried out the research. These films are less permeable to oxygen than the plastic variety, thus can help retard spoilage. Dr. Tomasula was quoted "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."
Another benefit of these new films is that they are completely biodegradable and won't clog up our landfills. In fact, they're even edible. Because of that characteristic, they might even function as a carrier for nutrients — vitamins, minerals, and might at some point be flavored.
Although this particular type of film won't be on the market for a few years, its obvious positive attributes suggest that it will be popular — at least among consumers. The extent to which food packagers decide to use it will likely depend on its price.