Intelligent Food Packaging

IFT LogoInnovative packaging solutions will help consumers to assess food quality before they buy.

The IFT16: Where Science Feeds Innovation symposium, which took place on July 18 and was hosted by the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT), has revealed a hot new trend that is emerging in the food packaging industry.

One presentation at the symposium suggested that it is only a matter of time before many different foods have “intelligent packaging,” a term used to describe package features that communicate information such as shelf life, freshness and quality.

- Advertisement -

“We need consumer-friendly sensors for products that say, “Hey, this food is fresh and safe to eat, or it isn’t,” said Claire Sand, an adjunct professor of packaging at Michigan State University and owner of Packaging Technology & Research. “We’re very close to being able to do for a multitude of foods.”

Intelligent packaging is already used on some medicines and food products, but it will become more widespread in the next few years due to the interest in reducing food waste, Sand claimed.

Time-temperature indicators have been around for a while and are widely used, especially on seafood packages to ensure the products are safe. They take into account time and temperature which are tied to deterioration. For instance, fish or chicken left out on the counter will spoil faster than if it’s kept in the refrigerator or freezer.

New degradation sensors work even better than time-temperature indicators because they actually measure products’ decay, Sand said. These sensors can be integrated into the packaging to detect spoilage and help reduce food waste. For instance, an entire package film may change color when certain chemical reactions, such as food decay, occur.

Degradation sensors or time-temperature indicators may also be small tags that change color when the product is no longer edible. In some cases, the bar codes fade so the food can’t be purchased, Sand said.

About 30% of food in the U.S. is wasted between production and consumption.

“Giving consumers clear direction on what food is still good and what food is past its shelf life will reduce food waste, which is a huge problem in the United States and other countries,” Sand continued.

As the price of food increases, consumers increasingly need a way to assess the quality of the food they buy.