In the last blog I spoke about food waste, and though it is not likely that it will ever be completely eliminated, there do exist plenty of possibilities to reduce it. For example, improving and standardizing expiration date labels could prevent consumers from prematurely throwing food away because it is not clear whether the food is still safe to eat.
Another innovative and resourceful way to mitigate food waste is through smart packaging. Packaging in general is meant to contain and protect food from the outside, and also to communicate information about the food, as conveniently as possible (Lee et al. 2015). Smart packaging, however, takes this one step further. Generally grouped in two categories, intelligent packaging and active packaging, smart packaging employs new and developing technologies to help maintain food quality for longer periods of time.
Active packaging involves the use of certain agents or chemicals inside the package in order to maintain food freshness. The most common active packaging application is Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP). MAP controls the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the package. Keeping oxygen levels low and carbon dioxide levels high impedes cellular respiration, preventing bacteria from multiplying in the food (Lee et al. 2015, Siró 2014). Active packaging can also be used to eliminate certain gases from the packaging environment. Since oxygen promotes bacterial growth, and ethylene promotes the ripening of fresh produce, packaging components than can “scavenge” these gases from the environment around the food can help maintain freshness and delay spoilage (Lee et al. 2015).
Figure 1: An example of a TTI brand in use, named CoolVuTM, introduced by the Swiss company Freshpoint.
Intelligent packaging, on the other hand, is used to communicate accurate and detailed information about the product’s condition, especially about drastic changes in its quality or safety (Lee et al. 2015, Siró 2014). Indicators achieve this by exhibiting an obvious color change caused by a chemical reaction when the food conditions change drastically, making them quite user-friendly (Lee et al. 2015, Siró 2014). A more specific type of indicators, Time Temperature Indicators (TTIs), are usually used for foods that need to be kept cold, and show whether the items were ever kept in temperatures that could accelerate microbe growth. Several companies have developed TTIs, such as the one pictured in Figure 1. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology not exclusive to the food industry, but that is increasingly being used to track products along the supply chain, improving traceability (Lee et al. 2015, Siró 2014).
Intelligent and active packaging can easily be applied together to reduce needless food waste, since one seeks to maximize quality for as long as possible, while the other clearly communicates exactly when the food is unsafe.
Lee, Seung Yuan, Seung Jae Lee, Dong Soo Choi, and Sun Jin Hur. "Current Topics in Active and Intelligent Food Packaging for Preservation of Fresh Foods." Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture J. Sci. Food Agric. 95.14 (2015): 2799-810. Wiley Online Library. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Siró, István. "Intelligent Packaging and Food Safety." Practical Food Safety: Contemporary Issues and Future Directions. Ed. Rajeev Bhat and Vicente M. Gómez-López. N.p.: n.p., 2014. 375-94. Wiley Online Library. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.