January 6, 2011

Researchers Developing ‘Intelligent Plastics’ For Packaging Food

Researchers from Strathclyde University are developing a new generation of smart packaging.

The researchers are working on indicators made from "intelligent plastics" which change color when food loses its freshness.

They hope to have a commercially viable product available soon, which will improve food safety and help cut waste.

The Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept program is supporting the project with $503,067 in funding. 

U.K. households are estimated to be throwing out roughly 9 million tons of food each year.

It is also believed that there are about one million cases of food poisoning annually in Britain.

The Strathclyde University team hopes new smart wrapping will alert consumers when food is about to lose its freshness because it has broken or damaged packaging, has exceeded its "best before" date or has been poorly refrigerated.

Freshness indicators currently being used take the form of labels inserted in a package, but these come at a significant cost.

The researchers are looking to create a new type of indicator that is part of the wrapping itself and is less expensive.

The indicator will change color when the freshness or the food deteriorates past a certain level.

It will be used as part of a form of food packaging known as modified atmosphere packaging, which keeps food in specially-created conditions that prolong its shelf life.

Professor Andrew Mills, who is leading the project, told BBC:  "At the moment, we throw out far too much food, which is environmentally and economically damaging.

"Modified atmosphere packaging is being used increasingly to contain the growth of organisms which spoil food but the costs of the labels currently used with it are substantial. 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. We also hope it will have a direct and positive impact on the meat and seafood industries."

The team believes its work could resolve potential confusion about the different significances of "best before" dates and "sell-by" dates.

It could also help to highlight the need for food to be stored in refrigerators that are properly sealed.


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