A team at the University of California, Davis, is seeking a patent for a product they’ve developed to keep food cold or frozen. Their “jelly ice cubes” do not contain plastic, are washable and reusable and won’t allow pathogens to hitch a ride or mold to form.

The concept is to replace ice with a product that is reusable and ultimately compostable when its utility wanes.

The cubes are 90% water, but the 10% gelatin hydrogels allow them to maintain a soft structure - hence the term “jelly” - and to hold any shape into which they are cut. 

“You can use it for 13 hours for cooling, collect it, rinse it with water and put it in the freezer to freeze again for the next use,” said Gang Sun, a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, in a statement from the university. He collaborated with Luxin Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology. 

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Wang said the idea emerged from observations of how much ice is used in fish processing and concerns that, as it melts, that ice could cause contamination. Plus, the reusable cubes reduce water consumption.

“We want to make sure this is sustainable" and also controls pathogens, Wang said. The project was supported with a $485,000 grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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