Would You Eat That? Some Readers Say No to Edible Film

Many people have eating habits that preclude foods they do not like and will not eat. Escargot and octopus are two examples of foods that commonly are shunned. While some people love these foods, others cannot tolerate the thought of eating them.

A recent column in this series discussed edible wraps. It described a new edible film made at the Agricultural Research Service of the US Dept. of Agriculture in Albany, CA.

What did this wrapper contact before placement in the store? Was the store shelf sufficiently clean? Could patrons in the store have coughed or sneezed on the edible package while it was sitting on the shelf?

The film discussed in that column is the product of a puree of fruits and vegetables that is fried and formed into a thin sheet of opaque film. Based on correspondence I received, the thought of such a development repulsed many people.

One response was very graphic. The writer asked who would want to purchase a bag of chips or a candy bar at their local convenience store and eat it and the wrapper in this day and age.

What did this wrapper contact before placement in the store, he asked? Was the store shelf sufficiently clean? Could patrons in the store have coughed or sneezed on the edible package while it was sitting on the shelf? Would someone feel comfortable placing the product on a not-so-clean counter when paying for the item? Would the clerk who also handled cash touch the item to scan the price?

These are all excellent reasons to make an edible package very unappealing to the appetite.

The correspondent appreciated that finding a better way to eliminate packaging waste is laudable. He as well as the others that commented on the column simply communicated their revulsion at the thought of placing something in their mouths that had an unconfirmed history and, therefore, possibly had some type of contamination. They made an excellent argument against the direct use of edible films.

Promotion of edible films was not the point of the recent column. The message was that packaging is evolving. Today's consumers are comfortable with packaging and generally are amenable to trying new forms of packaging. They realize modern technology can do wonders, including making the food items they purchase taste better, look better, store longer, etc.

Because of this willingness on the part of consumers, package developers must be ever vigilant in finding new ways of satisfying the wants and needs of consumers.

For an interesting example, consider briefly the specific objections against edible films mentioned above. Can you think of any solutions that might negate these valid objections?

Suppose the edible film contained a chemical material that would attack any germs or other contamination that was on the film. Suppose convenience stores had a unit with an emitter of some sort that negated anything foreign on the surface of a package made with an edible film. The buyer would simply place the package in the special unit as he or she was ready to exit the store.

These may be rather extreme ideas that do not seem practical today. Again, the point is simply this: Many things we think are impossible today may become common in the future. With that in mind, people in the packaging industry always must try to think outside the box.

Perhaps packaging octopus in an edible film would change the flavor sufficiently to make the item an acceptable addition to the diet of people who would not otherwise eat it. Unfortunately, the edible package would do nothing about the looks of the food.

David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at dbentley@unm.edu.


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