Intelligent shelf life indicator could slash food waste

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Shelf life Food

Intelligent shelf life indicator could slash food waste
A new intelligent technology that gives a running countdown of a product’s shelf life by analysing time and temperature data could replace traditional ‘use by’ dates on food labels, said the Norwegian company spearheading the development.

TimeTemp said its innovative shelf life indicator is able to more precisely measure the freshness of food items as they pass through the supply chain from factory to consumer and could lead to a significant reduction in the amount of waste produce.

The firm said processors have little control over the temperatures their goods are exposed to throughout the value chain. Consequently, they often mark their products with a shorter shelf life as a precautionary measure which can mean a lot of edible food is thrown away. Norwegian food retailers discard over 50,000 tonnes of food annually, said TimeTemp.

Intelligent technology

Driven by the need to address these issues, the company has developed the innovative device, which is a small self-adhesive label attached to food products. It contains a range of non-toxic chemicals which react and change colour according to time and temperature. The chemical reaction is activated at the packaging line of the food producer and follows each item from production to consumer. The reaction shows the time left before expiration of that product in accordance with the actual degradation of the food item – which is illustrated and in an easy-to-read graphical format, said TimeTemp.

The firm said the intelligent packaging technology is applicable for all products where quality and lifespan depend on time and temperature variables during storage, as well as items where quality depends on maturity and ageing. Items such as meat, poultry, dairy and even bakery products would potentially benefit from using the technology.

“The existing practice of setting expiration dates on foods or other temperature sensitive products – such as ‘best before’, ‘use by’ and ‘display until’ - is just a presumption of a product’s actual life span,”​ TimeTemp general manager Christian Aasland told “To set such a date, one needs to guess what temperature the product will be exposed to throughout the cold chains. Because such average assumptions never will be correct for an individual product, a large portion of the food we discard is because of bad dates and is perfectly fine.”

Actual storage conditions

He added the technology provides a more accurate indication of quality and therefore expiration because it is based on the actual storage conditions each individual product is exposed to rather than a general estimate made at the processing plant.

“The idea is to dynamically indicate date of expiration according to the true time and temperature each product experience in its life span,”​ he said.

The company has produced a prototype of the device and hopes to bring a finished product to market sometime in 2011. It is currently working with grocery chain NorgesGruppen, baked goods supplier Lantmännen Unibake, and McDonald’s Norway.

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