A Spray-On, Food-Saving Film Could Help Prevent the Next Pandemic Food Crisis

Mountains of produce could be saved from the trash

Jack McGovan
Future Human
Published in
5 min readAug 14, 2020

--

Workers on a farm dumping out old cabbage food waste.
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted food systems across the world. Travel restrictions have left bountiful harvests to rot unpicked as seasonal workers are unable to cross borders. Colorful mountains of produce are destined to decompose because interruptions in the supply chain have left them to lie in the sun. In June, the United Nations warned that the world was on the brink of the worst food crisis in 50 years: Millions of vulnerable people could soon face food insecurity, putting them at risk of malnutrition, further increasing their chances of catching the coronavirus.

Future waves of Covid-19 seem likely, and one way to prepare for their impact on our food supply is to prevent food waste. “Maintaining a low temperature is the absolute best thing you can do to preserve produce postharvest,” Eelke Westra, the program manager for postharvest quality at Wageningen University and Research, tells OneZero. Keeping food cool, however, isn’t always possible.

Although food waste is a complicated issue, it is exacerbated by a lack of sufficient refrigeration: Only 35% of total food produced in developed countries feels the cold touch of a refrigerator, according to the International Institute for Refrigeration. In developing nations, only 7% makes it. Since refrigeration is both economically and environmentally costly, some startups are now devising ways to bypass it altogether.

A Lebanese American company called Startchy has developed an odorless, tasteless, edible yet easily washable film that, when applied to fresh produce, significantly slows the rotting process. “From our tests in the lab, we’ve found that we could improve the shelf life of apples by a factor of 2.5,” CTO Seth Shumate tells OneZero. This means that an apple that typically lasts three weeks can actually last 7.5 weeks.

When fruits or vegetables are plucked, they continue to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide in a process known as respiration. This process is fueled by sugars inside the fruit, but when these run out, rotting begins. Slowing down respiration helps fresh produce to live longer, extending the timeframe in which it can be…

--

--

Jack McGovan
Future Human

Freelance writer / Berlin based, UK born / Science, sustainability & future tech / Tweets @jack_mcgovan