Scientists at Oregon State University (OSU) in the US say they have developed an edible food wrap by combining a fibre extracted from shellfish and a protein from egg white, meaning hungry consumers may soon no longer need to remove the outer packaging before munching their sandwiches.

Yanyun Zhao, an OSU food technologist and “specialist in value-added products” and university micriobiologist and food safety specialist Mark Daeschel have collaborated to combine chitosan from crab and shrimp shells and lysozyme from egg whites to create an “ultra-thin” edible wrap. It is said to look like existing sandwich wrapping and purportedly has the same protective properties.

The project follows several years’ work by Zhao in experimenting with chitosan, the tough exoskeleton material that gives shellfish their “protective armour”, to develop thin protective coatings for perishable fruits and berries. She says the “natural polymer” in chitosan has the additional benefit of inhibiting microbial growth. After Daeschel discovered that lysozyme has a similar anti-microbial effect to chemical sulfites as a natural preservative in beer and wines, the pair decided to combine the two substances.

Zhao, Daeschel and posdoctoral research associate Su-il Park have applied for patents, and now plan identifying practical applications, which they believe may include rigid packaging for anything from hot dogs and sausages to luncheon meats and cheese slices, as well as direct protective coating of foodstuffs.