This goopy coating could make fresh produce last longer in the fridge. What is it?

Whether it’s the food pyramid or the MyPlate initiative, Americans are taught to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables starting in grade school.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to eat fresh produce fast enough before the strawberries start to shrivel and the bananas start to brown.

A researcher at Rice University may have found a solution.

Muhammad Rahman, an assistant professor in materials science and nanoengineering and researcher, has developed a protein coating that can be used on fresh produce to extend its shelf life, according to a statement from Rice University.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than half of all produce is thrown away, and in 2010 that totaled 220 pounds of food waste per person per year in the U.S., or $161 billion worth.

“The goal of this project is to develop an eco-friendly, biodegradable, protein-based nanocomposite coating that can be applied to the surface of variously shaped fruits and vegetables,” Rahman said in the statement. “The coating will extend shelf life by reducing produce spoilage, dehydration and microbial growth rates.”

Rahman’s coating uses protein from surplus egg whites and mixes it with ingredients derived from food waste, adding curcumin powder as an antifungal agent.

The result is an amber-colored liquid, with what looks to be a similar viscosity to maple syrup or nail polish. Fruit and vegetables can be dipped into the liquid like dying an Easter egg.

The thicker the coating, the longer the food lasts.

Rahman said that other coatings meant to preserve food are often wax-based, which he says is bad for your health over time.

His coating, on the other hand, is made from protein, which is used by the body to repair cells and facilitate growth, particularly in children.

“The broader hope for this project is to improve the food industry carbon footprint and sustainability,” Rahman said in the statement. “I strive to align my research with the challenges of this critical, historic moment that confronts us with the urgent need to address anthropogenic climate change and find real-world solutions for a more sustainable future.”

Rahman’s current project builds on previous research that showed the egg-based coating was able to “double the shelf life of avocados, bananas and other fruit.”

Rice University is in Houston, Texas.

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