Intelligent Packaging: Microchips Show Shelf Life of Fresh Products

According to the FAO about one third of the food produced in the world, which is approximately 1.3 billion tons, is thrown out. A newly invented microchip which can be integrated in the packaging made by the German company Global Innovationspromises to tackle the food waste problem with the help of intelligent packaging.

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Food waste is a great problem worldwide. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations about one third of the food produced in the world, which is approximately 1.3 billion tons, is thrown out. The per capita waste of food by consumers lies between 95-115 kilos per year in Europe and North America.

In Germany, people waste around 82 kilos of food every year and capita. One of the reasons for that is a wrong understanding of the minimum durability date. A newly invented microchip which can be integrated in the packaging made by the German company Global Innovations promises to tackle this problem with the help of intelligent packaging.

Minimum durability date vs. use-by date

The main reason why people throw food away which is still edible is because they do not know what the minimum durability date means. People often think that by this date the product isn’t good anymore. In fact it is the opposite: The date says that you can consume your milk or yoghurt at least up to this date but mostly it stays fresh much longer.

This stands in contrary to the use-by date which says that a fresh product such as meat, has to be eaten until a certain day. In this case it is better not to consume it after the printed date. In order to tackle this confusion and to make it easier for consumers to figure out whether a product is fresh or not, the researchers and product developers at Global Innovations based in Longuich, Germany, in cooperation with the University of Münster, work on solutions that help people assess the freshness of a product like milk.

Open Monitor as an aid to freshness

The mechanism behind the intelligent packaging is fairly easy: The silvery chip and its functions are based on an electro-chemical process that disintegrates a thin aluminum foil. When you put the Open Monitor on a pack of milk and open it, the chemical reactions begin and the aluminum starts to oxidize. On a scale of 1 to 5 you can see how long the milk has been open and therefore you know exactly when to throw it away.

Another solution by Global Innovations is the so called “Electronic Durability Date” which “… works like a clock that goes slower in a fridge than it does at room temperature”, explains Torsten Münich, CEO at Global Innovations. This could be a huge step forward because at the moment the minimum durability date is set very early so that there is a safety buffer. Therefore a product is per date not edible even though it still can be eaten without fear of getting food poisoning. Another advantage of the electronic freshness scale is that it does not just give the consumer a yes or no answer but it tells you exactly how fresh a product is by measuring the storage temperature.

For the future the developers at Global Innovations work on a much better version of the chip which might be integrated in the packaging and activated directly after filling in order to keep track of the freezer chain.
This kind of innovative packaging was also shown at this year’s drupa at our touchpoint packaging.

What do you think about intelligent packaging solutions? In which way can they be used to keep our food fresh? Please leave a comment.