- Technology firm Innoscentia is partnering with Ynvisible Interactive to produce expiration date labels that offer real-time monitoring of food quality to help reduce waste and alert consumers to spoiled food, according to a release. The partnership is in the prototype stage, with the companies working to adapt the sensors for large-scale production and printing.
- This new partnership applies Innoscentia’s digital sensors to packages, which then register the freshness of food and display the results using Ynvisible labels. By providing a clear indicator of whether or not food is fit for consumption, the companies hope to "unlock the lost shelf life of food."
- Packaging is an integral component of the food and beverage industry that has commanded increased attention in recent years. Producers are trying to increase packaging sustainability, as well as use technology to provide information on the condition of the food inside.
Confusion over date labeling accounts for an estimated 20% of U.S. consumer food waste, according to the FDA. Federal law does not require expiration dates on any products except baby food, so language on labels can vary between offering "best by," "sell by" and "best if used by" dates. The result: Consumers sometimes throw out food that is still fit for consumption. Labeling confusion has contributed to Americans throwing out the equivalent of about $161 billion in food each year, according to statistics compiled by waste services company RTS.
This partnership is looking to change that. Ynvisible has identified three components of this label that could make it stand out: low cost, format flexibility and low power consumption. The company said those components allow it to tailor its R&D services to incorporate its displays into existing products.
Other companies are working on this problem as well. Braskem, a thermoplastic resin producer, partnered with universities in the U.S. and Brazil to develop fresh food packaging that detects pH changes and spoilage by changing the color of its packaging. Insignia Technologies also invented a color-changing label that is placed on boxes of fresh produce to alert logistics companies, wholesalers and retailers to the freshness of products.
Some companies are also working to extend shelf life through packaging. StixFresh and Apeel Sciences are using stickers and protective coatings to extend the shelf life of produce.
While these solutions are appealing from the perspective of public health as well as for retailers looking to minimize potential revenue thrown into the trash, the cost of these futuristic labeling solutions may cause potential buyers to balk as it could eat into already thin margins. Although this effort is striving for a low-cost solution, the Innoscentia-Ynvisible labeling collaboration does not yet have a price tag. Similar solutions that are already available on the market are not currently in widespread use and continue to rely on VC funding. But consumers are willing to pay extra for products that promote sustainability, so incorporating these solutions may prove to be a lucrative move in the long run for companies.
Not only could this innovation help prevent food waste, but it also could keep consumers healthy. Each year, one in six people in the U.S. gets sick from consuming contaminated foods or beverages, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While not all of these illnesses are attributable to spoiled food, those that are could be prevented with this kind of packaging.
Last year, the FDA said it strongly supports voluntary industry efforts to use the "Best if used by" phrase on products when including date labels to indicate quality. A recent survey also found 85% of U.S. consumers thought simplified date labels would be helpful. If these new labels arrive with the right price, companies may start considering this solution.