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Cheaper smart packaging which indicates if the food is going off being developed

By Damir Beciri
21 January 2011

university-of-strathclyde-smart-food-packagingA while ago we wrote an article about the research from Fraunhofer Institute related to active packaging that could prolong the shelf life of food products. Since a research estimates that 8.3 million tons of household food (most of which could have been eaten) is wasted only in the UK each year, a team of researchers from the University of Strathclyde is developing packaging which indicates when the food might start to go off.

The project aims to improve food safety and cut unnecessary food waste by developing a new type of indicator, made of ‘intelligent plastics’ which would change its color in order to provide a warming when the food is about to lose its freshness due to potential broken or damaged packaging, exceeded ‘best before’ date or lack of conditions needed to keep the product fresh.

The indicator is meant to be used as part of a form of food packaging known as modified atmosphere packaging, which keeps food in specially-created conditions that prolong its shelf life. Freshness indicators typically take the form of labels inserted in a package but these come at a significant cost. Strathclyde researchers are looking to create a new type of indicator which is an integral part of the packaging, and so is far less expensive.

“Modified atmosphere packaging is being used increasingly to contain the growth of organisms which spoil food but the costs of the labels currently used with it are substantial. We are aiming to eliminate this cost with new plastics for the packaging industry”, said Professor Andrew Mills, of the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, current leading researcher of the Strathclyde project. “We hope that this will reduce the risk of people eating food which is no longer fit for consumption and help prevent unnecessary waste of food. We also hope it will have a direct and positive impact on the meat and seafood industries.”

By giving a clear and unambiguous sign that food is beginning to perish, the indicators being developed at Strathclyde could resolve potential confusion about the different significances of ‘best before’ dates and ‘sell-by’ dates. They could also help to highlight the need for food to be stored in refrigerators which are properly sealed.

“Through the Proof of Concept Programme, we are creating the opportunities to build high value, commercially viable spin-out companies from ground-breaking research ideas. What we want to achieve are more companies of scale created as a result of the Programme, and this project is a great example of an idea which offers real business opportunities”, said Lisa Branter, acting head of the Proof of Concept Programme.

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