Cambridge Crops, Inc. a food tech company based in Somerville, Massachusetts develops an edible, imperceptible coating that might replace plastic packaging to preserve meats and produce. Benedetto Marelli, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, was a postdoc at Tufts University’s Omenetto Lab when he stumbled upon a novel use for silk. Marelli partnered with several Boston-based scientists, including Adam Behrens, then a postdoc in the lab of Institute Professor Robert Langer, to form Cambridge Crops.
Its founders consider Cambridge Crops an “anti-waste company” and its mission is to make healthy food more accessible by keeping it fresher, longer.
The company aims to iterate and expand on the initial discovery, using silk as its core ingredient to develop products that extend the shelf life of all sorts of perishable foods. Not silk threads like those used in the textile industry, but a water-based solution made with silk molecules. Cambridge Crops utilizes a proprietary and efficient process using only water and salt to isolate and reform the silk’s natural protein. The startup’s core technology renders silk invisible, but retains its key molecular properties.
The company unravel the power of silk to tackle three of the major reasons that food goes bad.
- DEHYDRATION: It keeps the water in to stop things from drying out.
- OXIDATION: It keeps the air out to keep nutrients and vitamins at their best.
- MICRO-ORGANISMS: It makes difficult for bacteria, yeast, and mold to grow.
Being a solution, the proprietary coating can be applied quickly and easily to any shape, size, or texture by dunking or spraying. Once deposited on the surface of food, the silk coating forms a tasteless, odorless, and otherwise imperceptible barrier that slows down the food’s natural degradation mechanisms. The natural protective layer works on whole and cut produce, seafood, poultry, and meat. Depending on the food item, the result can show up to a 200 percent increase in shelf life.
“Approximately one-third of all food produced gets lost or wasted every year. That’s bad for people who don’t have enough to eat, bad for farmers, and bad for the environment … Cambridge Crops [is] working on protective skins that keep food fresh longer.”Bill Gates
Not only the technology enable less food waste, but that also reduces the pressure on cold chains, allowing shippers to reduce greenhouse gases in transportation. The coating’s offers three fold benefits.
- NATURAL: Protective layer is made from natural ingredients and helps companies reduce the need for the single-use plastic, wax, fungicides, or chemicals normally used.
- SUSTAINABLE: Made from sustainable ingredients, the protective layer helps reduce food waste and helps increase the accessibility of healthier foods.
- EDIBLE: Tasteless, odorless, and invisible, the protective layer helps food taste better for longer. You’ll never even know it’s there.
As Cambridge Crops prepares for the commercial launch of its own patented technology, it is poised to tackle some of the most intractable obstacles facing global food networks to reduce waste and make nutritious foods more accessible to all.