Researchers at Rice University and other institutions are studying coatings to help fruits and vegetables remain fresh longer. ( Courtesy Rice University )

They say you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Now you could say the same action could help keep produce fresh.

Researchers used eggs for the base of an inexpensive micron-thick coating that prolonged the shelf life of strawberries, avocadoes, bananas and other fruit far beyond that of untreated fruit, according to a news release from Rice University, Houston.

Researchers from Rice, Purdue University, the University Houston, Georgia Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. participated in the project, which also spanned numerous departments at the institutions.

The coating can be applied to produce by dipping or spraying. It is edible but does not affect taste and can be easily washed off, so people with egg allergies can eliminate it, according to the release.

Egg whites and yolks account for 70% of the coating and most of the rest is nanoscale cellulose from wood, which acts as a barrier to water, according to the release. Cucurmin is added for antimicrobial effects and glycerol adds elasticity.

Researchers are also testing proteins that can be extracted from plants to make protective coatings, according to the release.

An added benefit: the coating can be made from eggs that would normally go to landfills. According to the release, up to 200 million of the seven billion eggs produced in the U.S. are sent to landfills because they are rejected by manufacturers, although there’s nothing wrong with the egg yolk and whites.

“Reducing food shortages in ways that don’t involve genetic modification, inedible coatings or chemical additives is important for sustainable living,” Pulickel Ajayan, professor of engineering at Rice and head of the department, said in the release. “The work is a remarkable combination of interdisciplinary efforts involving materials engineers, chemists and biotechnologists from multiple universities across the U.S.”