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My diner is talking to me!

  • 4-19-2012

My diner is talking to me!

Do we need to throw out the food which expired? Is it really sure that we can eat the ones that haven't expired yet? Future smart food packages monitor the freshness of food products and indicate for sure whether they are edible or not.

New design for products

It is not a coincidence that manufacturers pay particular attention to food packages, since inviting labels and the sight of appetizing food motivate us to buy them; mostly we buy the one that looks the best. That's why transparent plastics have been used for more than fifty years. They allow us to see the food inside but they are also durable at the same time.

In the last decades innovations of plastic industry didn't avoid packages either. Composite materials were started to be applied in modified atmosphere packaging which keep the food fresh. Specific materials developed by the BASF Performance Polymers Division are used for dish-style packs for sliced meat, cold cuts and cheese. The tray, which is in contact with the food, is a polyamide that is simultaneously tough and flexible and what is more important: they retain oxygen and carbon dioxide. The upper film is BOPA-based (Biaxially Oriented Polyamide) which is extremely flexible, tear-resistant and the inner layer serves as a barrier against the air.

Watch how the wrapping, developed by BASF, works:

The new generation of packages prolongs the freshness of food products in a chemical way. The so-called active food packages emit chemical substances, or actually do the opposite: they absorb substances release by the food, thus prolonging its shelf-life.

Expiration date "deleted"

Source: University of Ottawa

It is difficult to determine the exact expiration date of a perishable food product, because it highly depends on the storage temperature. A food product can go off then times faster at 8-10 0C in a refrigerator than at 0 0C.

That's why intelligent indicators are being developed for the food industry which immediately detects if a food is not edible anymore. Swiss scientists are building “olfactory systems” into food packages to monitor foods' quality. The system measures the temperature, the humidity and the changes of some other compounds. The ethylene content changes when the fruit ripens, while the appearance of hexanol indicates, if it goes off. But sensors detect presence of other pathogens and effects of UV radiation as well as leakage, drying and other damages of the package. Discolorations of packages means bad values, and packages may become unopenable.

Dilemma of the expiration date doesn't avoid frozen foods either, since we can't be sure about that the food was properly deep-frozen. The time temperature indicator developed by BASF helps us to monitor the food on its way from the manufacturer to the retailer, so customers can tell at a glance by looking at the label whether the product was kept constantly deep-frozen and properly stored until it arrived to the customer’s deep-freezer. A temperature-sensitive ink is used to print the OnVu™ ICE labels; the darker its colour is, the better the cold chain has been maintained for chilled and frozen foods.

Radio frequency, the food controller

Radio frequency identification (RFID) revolutionized smart packages as well. Electronic chips placed on packages instead of bar codes store all necessary information about foods, their components, allergens, and of course expiration dates. To check all of these things we don't need to put each product under a sensor, since with electronic data transfer all data are available from bigger distances. There are “smart” shopping centres where RFID tags are placed onto shopping carts, which display information about the chosen products for the customers, who can also be informed about how much they have to pay at the cashier's desk.

Did you know?

Not only the packaging can be intelligent but the food itself too. The supporters of wellness lifestyle like to eat the so-called “Clever Food” which is produced with non-intrusive molecular selection. This is a special method which means that valuable components, which are entirely cleared from contamination, are extracted from the raw material. Smart foods also undergo molecular homogenization, they will be tastier, more durable, and the most important fact is that at molecular level they will be “programmed” to stimulate the body's self-regulatory processes through the brain.