Packaging of foods serves a major purpose viz to protect the contents from damage due to many factors. It also fulfills the needs of the manufacturer to communicate with the consumer regarding a multitude of information about the food being sold and the legal frame work put in place in different countries for the labels must be adhered to so that consumer is not misled into buying through unsubstantiated claims. Generally a good packaging system must help to retain the integrity of the pack till it reaches the consumer, enhance product attributes, communicate effectively with the consumer, lend it to easy opening, assure product authenticity and if possible counter act possible undesirable changes in the food packed. Though there are a number of alternatives available to the industry for packing various foods, advent of synthetic plastic materials has revolutionized the packaging scenario dramatically. Now comes the claim that plastic packing materials can be engineered to tell the consumer whether the contents are still safe for consumption.
"Plastic manufacturers could soon be seeing a new smart food packaging produced on their industrial conveyors, which could be set to revolutionise the food industry. Scientists at the University of Strathclyde have developed a new intelligent plastic that researchers are hopeful will be able to indicate when food is no longer suitable for consumption. The plastic has been developed to change colour when food deteriorates past a certain level. Lead researcher professor Andrew Mills explained that the current costs associated with producing and labelling modified atmosphere packaging are substantial. He added: "We are aiming to eliminate this cost with new plastics for the packaging industry. "We hope that this will reduce the risk of people eating food which is no longer fit for consumption and help prevent unnecessary waste of food." Recent research published by Pira International suggested that a newly developed bioplastics will be a major driver for the packaging market over the next five years".
Though the developers of this packaging material are confident about the reliability of the technology in foretelling the quality of foods without opening, whether it will work with all foods or is restricted to modified atmosphere packaged products is not clear. Regarding the claim that it would reduce the cost of packaging it needs a recheck as any innovation is likely to enhance the value and therefore could be more expensive. Nevertheless the concept of a non-destructive method for quality check in packed foods is worthy of receiving attention by the food industry and the innovators deserve full credit for their efforts. Probably much more will be heard about this development in the coming years and if and when fully developed, this technology may revolutionize the way food is packed and marketed.