Food industry, in its desire to provide the consumer with a guideline regarding the quality of packed foods at the point of purchase, routinely declare on the label instructions conveying the shelf life of the contents inside the pack. However these guidelines are often not based on actual shelf life studies under field conditions and there fore cannot be taken as gospel truth. Invariably shelf life declarations are on relatively safer side with the actual life much more than what is declared. This has been an issue exercising the minds of policy makers world over as many products, past the expiry date, are found to be still safe for consumption. However legally industry cannot advice the customers to consume date expired products due to apprehension regarding any unlikely episode that can happen involving such foods, with serious economic consequences. Here comes a technology that is supposed to precisely say whether a food is still good for consumption without opening the packet.
"TimeTemp said its innovative shelf life indicator is able to more precisely measure the freshness of food items as they pass through the supply chain from factory to consumer and could lead to a significant reduction in the amount of waste produce. The firm said processors have little control over the temperatures their goods are exposed to throughout the value chain. Consequently, they often mark their products with a shorter shelf life as a precautionary measure which can mean a lot of edible food is thrown away. Norwegian food retailers discard over 50,000 tonnes of food annually, said TimeTemp. Driven by the need to address these issues, the company has developed the innovative device, which is a small self-adhesive label attached to food products. It contains a range of non-toxic chemicals which react and change colour according to time and temperature. The chemical reaction is activated at the packaging line of the food producer and follows each item from production to consumer. The reaction shows the time left before expiration of that product in accordance with the actual degradation of the food item – which is illustrated and in an easy-to-read graphical format, said TimeTemp. The firm said the intelligent packaging technology is applicable for all products where quality and lifespan depend on time and temperature variables during storage, as well as items where quality depends on maturity and ageing. Items such as meat, poultry, dairy and even bakery products would potentially benefit from using the technology".
The easy to comprehend color changes will be a great boon to consumers who are torn between an economic need to consume such foods and fear of the consequences if some thing untoward happens. Since almost all food spoilage cases are time-temperature related, the new technology has unlimited scope for application. One unanticipated off-shoot of wide application of this technology will be the uncertainties faced by the retailers who may carry products with varying residual life and consumers becoming more choosy in picking up those with maximum unexpired life. Probably the color coded adhesive tape could be inserted inside the pack while the current "best before" date continues to guide the buyers. The color coded strip will be useful once the product is taken home and being consulted before deciding on consuming date expired products.