Dash of this

When film on your food is a good thing

Leave heirloom tomatoes to the organic farmers and pork belly to the chefs. In the chemistry department at Rutgers University and other laboratories like it, the real action is in less trendy ingredients like oregano, crab shells and milk.

In a handful of food science labs around the country, people who talk about food in terms of microbes and polymers have been turning the natural pathogen fighters found in everyday food into edible films and powders.

If their work pans out, thin films woven with a thyme derivative that can kill E. coli could line bags of fresh spinach. The same material in powder form might be sprinkled on packages of chicken to stop salmonella. Strawberries could be dipped in a soup made from egg proteins and shrimp shells.

The resulting film — invisible, edible and, ideally, tasteless — would fight mold, kill pathogens and keep the fruit ripe longer.

“These natural films are really a very hot topic these days,” said Michael Chikindas, a food scientist working with the team at Rutgers. “The range of applications is endless, from very delicate foods to Army rations and space missions.”

Helpful reminders for your tailgating party

Here are a few things to remember on your next tailgating adventure:

  • Place the grill on level ground, away from anything flammable, such as grass, leaves or — yes — your car. If you want extra security, cover the surface under the grill and within a radius of a couple of feet with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • A fire extinguisher wouldn’t be a bad idea. You never know.
  • After cooking, don’t pack up the grill until it is completely cool, as cold as your opponent’s passing percentage. Keep the hot action on the field, not in a parking lot trash can or your trunk. And before heading out, just be sure you remember to pack the grill back in your car. Don’t laugh. It’s been forgotten before.
  • For charcoal grilling, bring charcoal, a long-handled lighter and the starter method of your choice. For gas grilling, you need a small wrench and screwdriver, just in case the connections need adjusting.
  • Long-handled tongs and spatula, instant-read thermometer to determine doneness and oven mitts
  • Folding chairs and tables, for easier eating
  • Folding canopy for shade
  • Tarps to spread on the ground, so you don’t have to sit in dirt or mud.
  • A football or outdoor game (bean bag toss games come in team colors) to keep youngsters amused while waiting to eat.
  • Classes, events

  • Learn about braising at Williams-Sonoma at Columbiana Centre from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Other classes include espresso, Sept. 23; cookie and cake-decorating, Oct. 7. Free.
  • The Carolina Cake Show, sponsored by the N.C. Chapter of the International Cake Exploration Societe, will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 29 at Carolina Place Mall on Carolina Place Parkway in Pineville, N.C. To register, e-mail
  • The Young Chefs’ Academy, 7320 Broad River Road, continues its Young at Heart and basics classes with instruction on shrimp gumbo, Sept. 25, and cooking pork, Oct. 2. Cost is $25 per person, and both classes are from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Call (803) 749-0670 to register.
  • Compiled by Allison Askins from staff and wire reports. Reach Askins at (803) 771-8614.