Can active labels be a solution to food waste?


At Directo al Paladar we have been dealing with the problem of food waste from different points of view for a few months now, and this has become an issue that not only worries consumers but also the Administration, which has even proclaimed the year 2014 as the European year against food waste to sensitize and raise awareness with different measures to the community population.

To improve food safety, an attempt is made to establish other alternative solutions so that food is avoided as much as possible in the garbage. One of the measures that the food industry has to attack the problem of waste can be active labels. But what are they and how are they used?

One of the main causes of food waste in our homes is the uncertainty of when an open food is no longer suitable for consumption, so the easiest thing for us is when we doubt “throw it out just in case”. There are different alternatives for the consumer to know the state of the food they are going to consume, one of them would be active labels, which help us to know what the state of a packaged food or already opened in our fridge or pantry may be, all based on a series of parameters that we are going to know.

Food is undergoing a series of internal changes that limit its useful life and essentially it is to know these alterations for what active labels would serve, within them there are different types, some are already incorporated in the market and others are still in study. The parameters capable of being controlled by the label itself thanks to its electronic components powered by an on-board energy source would be changes in temperature, changes in gas concentration, changes in humidity and the appearance of microorganisms, among others.

Active labels that monitor changes in temperature

They work by activating and changing their color irreversibly when the food has exceeded its critical temperature and also informing for how long it has been exceeded. Thus, for example, an active label equipped with a temperature sensor may be able to predict the actual expiration date of a milk carton, a date that can be very different from the expiration date.

Labels indicating changes in gas concentration

Especially oxygen and carbon dioxide, mainly for foods packaged in protective atmospheres, also changing the color to report the presence of excess gas. But there are also active labels that what they do is absorb it, protecting the food from color changes, rancid flavors and a decrease in its nutritional value. And it is that oxygen is the enemy of many foods and constitutes one of the battles in the food industry to reduce the damage that this gas produces in them.

Active moisture regulating labels and the appearance of microorganisms

They are used mainly in fresh vegetables, with a scale of different colors inside the packaging that change color according to the level of humidity. Or by incorporating the classic silica gel desiccant sachets that absorb moisture in the container as it increases. Lastly, active labels that detect the appearance of microorganisms are being studied, since they produce a series of metabolic reactions that are collected by the label, such as changes in pH, presence of ammonia and others.

The consultation of the information of these labels can range from the simple visual method for determining changes in color scales to more sophisticated technologies through a mobile application, where the user when approaching his phone to the label achieves that in the Your device's screen displays all the information related to the food.

With the passage of time, I imagine that this system will be established little by little in all our packaged foods in order to know for sure if what has been in our fridge for a few days is still edible. Surely we will be surprised at the amount of food that could still have been consumed and that due to ignorance we have thrown away. And you as a consumer, would you prefer to buy packaged foods that had this type of active labels?

Images | Editorial J | Daquellamanera Directly to the Paladar | Edible and sustainable food packaging for the environment En Directo al Paladar | Expiration date and preferred consumption date. We clarify the doubts so that you do not waste food

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