Thursday, November 19, 2015

Smart labels-Need of the hour to help consumers detect quality impinged foods

Cold stored foods and frozen products are expected to keep their quality only if the ideal temperatures are maintained during storage, distribution and in the market places. Though accidental, unanticipated contingencies can cause abrupt temperature rise once in a while, there are deliberate actions by some unscrupulous traders to manipulate the cold storage conditions to save on the energy consumption without realizing the adverse consequences on the quality and safety of the products. In India it is a common practice for petty traders with refrigerators to switch off them during night when the shops down their shutters to be restarted in the morning after opening the shop. While safety might not be a major problem, there will be definitely significant quality deterioration if thawing and freezing take place repeatedly and too often.The manufacturers as well as the consumers have no way to know whether quality damage has taken place in side the sealed packs as there is no tell tale evidence of such malpractices at the seller's end. The reported development of smart labels which can indicate adverse quality changes for the consumer to see when purchased may be a boon for millions of people who buy cold stored food products. Read further on this subject below:

"To ensure the "cool chain", the University of Milano Bicocca has developed a label that is sensitive to temperature changes and that changes colour when the safety limits are exceeded. The study was published in the scientific journal "Advanced Optical Materials". The "smart" label was designed by a team of researchers from the Department of Materials Science of the University of Milano Bicocca and the Imperial College of London, coordinated by Luca Beverina, associate professor in Organic Chemistry at the University of Milano Bicocca. The label is based on a chemical reaction optimized by researchers that activates an organic pigment on a porous silica film to be applied on the package. The label is colourless: if during the journey the temperature exceeds 4°C, it becomes light blue; after being above the temperature suitable to ensure correct product storage for three hours, it becomes dark blue. The colouring is irreversible so that the label "always tells the truth" about the storage of a product, from packaging to sales desk"

Of course how far this innovation will be accepted by the industry and the retailers is a critical question which will decide its utilitarian value. Though these labels are primarily intended for use by cold chain players for detecting wide fluctuations in the temperature during transit, it should also serve at the retail level provided every  manufacturer uses them on their products. The cost of making smart labels must be very nominal and cost consideration might not be a constraint. In a highly technological country like the US, such innovations are likely to be accepted fast. But it is rather doubtful whether in most developing countries smart labels will ever find takers as the industry is least regulated and it is used to getting away with selling products of indifferent quality to the hapless consumer because there is no reddressal mechanism for such malpractices by the industry.  Probably the regulatory authorities could step in to make smart labels mandatory for temperature sensitive cold products.


No comments: