- Researchers at Rice University have converted the outer layer of food into graphene, essentially tattooing an edible barcode directly onto it, according to an article on co.design.
- Graphene is not only safe to eat, it also can conduct electricity, so electronics can be embedded into food. This new branding could contain information, like where produce was grown and when it was shipped. It also has the ability to detect food contamination.
- Currently, the conversion of food into graphene is only possible with fruits and vegetables high in lignin, like potatoes. This technology can also be applied to wood and fabric.
The food industry has seen a spike of interest and applications in tracking food on labels, but this appears to be the first major advancement in putting information directly onto the food product.
While this technology holds incredible potential to improve traceability and make food safer, it may seem a bit too much like Gattaca coming to real life for consumers. It's one thing to scan a sticker on an apple. It's another to eat the label.
That said, there is an increased demand for traceability, transparency and food safety. Recent research has predicted that the food traceability market will be worth $14 billion by 2019.
A new blockchain certification system launched by Viant and the World Wild Fund for Nature offers consumers a way to track a fish's history, from the ocean to the plate. Fish are tagged with a QR code when they're caught, and information about them is logged into Viant's system.
The big difference here is that the QR code is embedded in a tag, not onto a fin. The questions remain: are consumers ready for interactive food, and can the cost of this technology hold some businesses back from being early adopters?
Graphene could also present an opportunity for marketing and branding. Why use a sticker when the food could become the logo? Researchers are just scratching the surface when it comes to the possible applications of this technology.
Among its limitations is the requirement that a substance have a high level of lignin in order to transform into graphene. Wood and fabric easily fit the bill, along with a number of food items, ranging from carrots to peaches. But for this to work on a steak or wedge of brie, changes would have to be made.
Another challenge that comes along with this development is a litigious one. Consumers may consider the information from the graphene label to be a guarantee that food is safe. Would companies be liable if consumers became ill?
Ultimately, it will come down to consumers and how receptive they are to eating graphene.