Researchers Develop "Bumpy" Food Label to Prevent Food WasteMarie Donlon | November 13, 2018
Predicting when food might spoil is a veritable guessing game based on seemingly arbitrary dates that often see food discarded before its time. Now, researchers in the U.K. may have devised a solution to the issue of monitoring food freshness with the creation of a new label for milk containers that will decompose in sync with the liquid contents going sour.
Although initially designed as a safety measure preventing the sale of foods that might be unsafe to eat, expiration dates often result in the waste of an estimated 60% of still usable foods in U.K. homes.
Often not reflected in those expiration dates are factors such as how a product is stored during transport to shops and, eventually, to the homes of consumers.
"Suppliers tend to build in a margin of error to mitigate the risk of the cold storage chain being broken," said Solveiga Pakštaitė, founder of Mimica, a London-based company that is attempting to produce more accurate food spoilage indicators. "It means that if the supply chain works perfectly, perishable products are going out of date and being thrown away before they have actually spoiled."
As such, Pakštaitė and her team have been working on a tactile label that changes texture as food ages. The label includes a layer of gelatin with biologically active ingredients that are meant to simulate what happens to the food it is adhered to. The gelatin breaks down in the same time frame as the food decomposes and emerging from beneath that decomposing layer of gelatin is a bumpy bottom layer.
"The idea initially came from thinking about how visually impaired people cope with expiry dates on food," Pakštaitė said. "They have no way of seeing the date printed on the side of the packaging so often they choose foods that are processed and tinned because they don't go off as quickly. This means the food they eat isn't very healthy. So I wanted to come up with a solution that could help them.
"But as I researched expiry dates, I realised that we are all sort of blind to food when it goes off. We rely on the expiry date that often tells us little about what is happening to the food inside the packaging."
Currently, Danish dairy company Arla is testing the labels out on consumers in the U.K., where the label appears on the lid of the company’s milk containers. If the label proves successful during those trials, Mimica will roll them out to supermarkets later this year.
Additionally, Mimica hopes to use the labels to help gauge the freshness of other foods like eggs and meat.
Without revealing what is done exactly to calibrate the gelatin so that is decomposes in sync with the food the label is adhered to, Pakštaitė revealed that the gelatin undergoes a different calibration process from product to product based on factors such as mathematical modeling and laboratory testing.