Futuristic packaging changes colors when food spoils
- Braskem, a thermoplastic resin producer, has joined with universities in the U.S. and Brazil to develop fresh food packaging that will change color when food is hazardous to consume, according to Food Navigator.
- The packaging works by detecting pH changes and other indicators in the food that suggest spoilage.
- Research into the packaging began in 2013, with the first prototype coming out last year.
Scientists and packaging companies have been working for years to develop technology that indicates spoilage in food and beverage products. Several years ago, researchers at the University of Rhode Island came up with heat-sensing UPC codes that would change color when a fresh product became too warm, indicating contamination. In 2014, Chinese researchers developed corn kernel-sized tags that could attach to packaging and change color when spoilage was present.
These efforts, along with others, have yet to reach commercial viability since special sensors can be difficult to replicate in mass quantities, and at a cost that’s agreeable to manufacturers.
For now, food and beverage companies rely on various “best by” and “sell by” claims to indicate product freshness. But these claims have proven to be a headache for consumers who have a hard time figuring out what many of them mean. What does a “better if used by” date indicate? Does a “sell by” date point out when a product will spoil? In fact, these dates indicate product quality rather than product safety; federal law only requires that baby food contain a spoilage date.
In the absence of clear instructions, many consumers simply throw out food that’s nearing or has reached its on-pack date. This creates vast amounts of food waste, according to organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, which estimates that people throw out a billion pounds of food each year due to label confusion. Developing clearer labels, organizations estimate, could reduce food waste in the U.S. by as much as 8%.
Regulators and industry groups are working towards this goal. In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Food Safety and Inspection Service recommended that manufacturers only use a “best if used by” label on meat, dairy and other fresh food packaging. The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, meanwhile, recommend two labels: “BEST If Used By" to signify product quality and "USE by" to indicate the safety of perishable products.
Each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of these illnesses, likely caused by eating spoiled food, could be prevented with packaging that alerts the consumer.
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