How do we know when our food goes off? Yes, we check the expiry dates. We throw our food away after the expiry date when it might still be edible. Likewise, we assume the food within its expiry date is still safe for consumption until it throws us an unpleasant surprise. There are scenarios where some expiry dates are torn or smeared. So, you let your senses of sight and smell to decide their freshness. Most of the time, this will either lead to food wastage or health concerns. That’s when the concept of smart food labels comes in.
HoneyBox – Smart Food Container
BlakBear, a UK-based startup has come up with the idea of a smart food container called HoneyBox. The design consists of a paper RFID sensing label that detects the ammonia level of food stored in it. BlakBear claims the label to be 100 times more sensitive than the human nose. It features a printed electrode pair and an embedded RFID chip. Linking to a mobile application, HoneyBox enables consumers to check their food shelf life. Besides that, the device will send reminders and act as a freshness countdown timer. It will alert the consumers when the food is unsafe, for example, when the refrigerator door is left open. BlakBear is currently beta testing this product.
Velcro-like Smart Food Sensor
Measuring the surface of food sometimes is not enough to tell whether the food is still edible. There are holes in food with all the hidden contaminating bacteria where surface sensors can hardly detect. A recent journal introduces a new Velcro-like smart food sensor with higher detection reliability without damaging the food packaging. The silk-based microneedle array extracts food fluids as they pierce through the packaging and food surface. These fluids will then travel to the bioink-printed area (back of the array). There are two types of bioinks – pH-sensitive and bacteria-sensing respectively. When these bioinks change colour, it indicates food spoilage. The interesting part of the bacteria-sensing bioink is its tunable feature to sense a wide range of pathogens. It can be done by mixing the bioink with different antibodies that are sensitive to pathogens such as E. coli. The researchers are now planning to improve the current sensing speed. They also intend to apply the sensor on a wider range of food and pathogens in the future.
Mimica Touch- Bumpy Smart Label
The idea of this tactile label started with the name Bump Mark and now Mimica Touch. The inspiration for this design came from thinking about ways to make expiry dates “visible” to visually impaired individuals. Because they cannot see the expiry dates, they tend to choose unhealthy processed food with longer shelf life. This reusable smart label mimics the decline in food freshness. It can be in the form of a bottle cap on drinks as well. The design is simple with a layer of bioresponsive gel covering the bumps. The calibrated bioresponsive gel will decay at the same rate as the food it is labelling. Once you start to feel the bumps under the label, you know your food’s time has come. The company has conducted trials on dairy products using this tactile label. Juices will be the next trial target. Application of Mimica Touch on non-food products such as medicines and cosmetics is the company’s vision as well.
The concept of smart food labels has been around for a while. It is indeed a promising approach to reduce food waste and food-related health issues. While its traditional counterpart is still dominating the packaging industry, smart food labels will soon become a trend in this technology-obsessed world.
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