Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Consumers invariably face a dilemma regarding the quality of food within a sealed pack though the date marking on the label indicating the manufacturing date and expiry date give them some clue. Still millions of consumers believing that the food they buy must be as fresh as possible scout for packs with most recent manufacturing date and get assured that they are safe. However after taking home these purchased items may lie on the kitchen shelf some more days and some time not utilized till the expiry date is reached. Under such circumstances the critical question is whether these food items can still be safe or not? Many food pundits suggest that food packages past their expiry date should not be thrown away as most of them would be still good and safe for consumption. It is argued that after all expiry date is not an absolute figure but an indicative one for the consumers to be more cautious. Still many consumers are not willing to take risk with their lives and like to err on safer side not consuming them which end up in the garbage bin. Here is an innovation claimed to be of help to such consumers in taking a decision regarding how safe is the food inside a package with the help of electronic sensors printed on flexible packaging material used to fabricate the pouches.

To fight food waste, producers could include an electronic sensor circuit in their packaging to monitor the acidity level of the food, for example. The sensor circuit could be read with a scanner or with your mobile phone to show the freshness of your steak, or whether your frozen food was defrosted. Researcher Eugenio Cantatore of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e): "In principle that's all already possible, using standard silicon ICs. The only problem is they're too expensive. They easily cost ten cents. And that cost is too much for a one euro bag of crisps. We're now developing electronic devices that are made from plastic rather than silicon. The advantage is you can easily include these plastic sensors in plastic packaging." The plastic semiconductor can even be printed on all kinds of flexible surfaces, which makes it cheaper to use. And it makes sensor circuits costing less than one eurocent achievable.

How versatile this sensor might be, can be assessed only after wide scale testing of different food products and various packing materials under factory conditions. What criteria are used to design these sensors are not clear and due to different type of food spoilage one sensor may not fit for all of them. For example food is spoiled due to chemical changes caused with or without oxygen, undesirable textural changes, moisture ingress, microbiological changes etc and if really one can come up with a sensor that can monitor all these changes, there is nothing like that. But according to the inventors the above development may take at least 5 years before becoming a reality. If there is reasonable confidence that it will materialize consumers will not mind waiting for such a day for enabling him to buy packed foods with more confidence and trust. 


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