We usually wrap food in plastic in order to preserve it longer. When we’ve finished with that food, the plastic ends up in the bin. But what if you no longer have to use single-use plastic for preserving your food at all? That’s what SpraySafe from Bragança in Portugal is working on. SpraySafe has developed a special liquid which you can spray food with. Or you could dip food in it too so it will last longer. The protective layer can be easily washed off and is made of natural ingredients. Márcia Carocho, one of the founders, tells us all about SpraySafe.

How does it work?

It’s very simple. You can spray it directly on food or you can dip food in the liquid. When the liquid evaporates, it creates a gelatin-like layer that slows down the oxidation process. And just like plastic, it protects against moisture loss and micro-contamination. Only this solution is all-natural and contains plant extracts and bio-polymers. You can just wash the layer off before you eat your meat or vegetables. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t wash it off properly, as it is edible and completely tasteless.

What’s it made of and how did you come up with this idea?

What precisely is in the SpraySafe liquid will remain our secret. We have filed a patent application and we don’t really want to say too much about any of that. Our team is comprised of researchers from Centro de Investigação de Montanha (Mountain Research Center, Portugal) where we conduct research on the entire ecosystem in the mountains. From agriculture and forest management to plants and their characteristics. I discovered that there are also some plant extracts that have the ability to protect food. But it took many years to find out how to obtain these extracts and make these work the way we wanted them to. This would never have been possible without all the expertise that is present here in the center.

Aren’t people a bit afraid to dip their food in a liquid?

We don’t have any official figures yet, but we’ve asked lots of people around the lab and other people we know. It doesn’t seem to scare them off. Food does look a bit gummy at first when it’s taken out of the liquid. People we’ve asked have told us that this doesn’t look very appealing. Although everyone recognizes the gelatin-like layer once it’s dry. People know that this is edible. Most of them told us that it’s not such a crazy idea and they’d like to use this product. Especially when we tell them that this is a natural product and that it can replace single-use plastic. We are planning to do more research with consumers so we’ll probably adapt the product a bit more to them.

Does Spraysafe work with all types of food?

We now know exactly how it reacts to ham and a large variety of vegetables. But every food sort reacts differently. We’re currently testing various kinds of fish, meat and fruit. Cheese is also very different. It has to do with the amount of water in food and the bio-polymers that we use. We are working on various solutions.

Which cliche about start-ups do you think isn’t true?

Often people say that everything is difficult as a start-up, that there is that “valley of death” which you’ve got to get through. But we have seen and experienced that this is not as impossible as everyone says. Of course, it’s not easy, but – this may be a cliché as well – it’s important that you share your ideas with the people you trust, that they are willing to help. We did that too. And in our case: if someone were to run off with our idea, we know we have the knowledge of it on our side. SpraySafe involved years and years of development. The research center offers us that advantage.

Is running a start-up different than you imagined?

Sometimes it is difficult to meet the expectations of investors as they want to see immediate results. This is so very different from the scientific world which I come from. Luckily we have a solid team, we can rely on each other. If someone is having doubts about something or things don’t go as planned, someone else will help them through and make sure that they’re okay. Science is totally different from running a business. None of us had any idea how much paperwork and legal issues were involved. Especially when it came to setting up a company. Fortunately, we have a helpful legal department at the research center, they are really guiding us through it all. We’re grateful for that.

Why are you doing this?

So many wonderful inventions are being made here at the center. We really want to translate our research into an application that makes the world a better place. It would be a shame if good stuff like this stayed on the shelf, wouldn’t it?

When is SpraySafe deemed a success?

At the moment we’re working on a proof of concept in the lab, which is already up and running. But we want to scale it up to larger and more widespread applications. We’re focusing mainly on business to business. But before we get there, we first have to reduce our production costs as at the moment they’re too high. We are working on this right now.