Bad fish

2 min read

A team of researchers has developed “Smart Packaging” for fresh fish and fish products that tells the consumer if their pre-packed product is spoiled.

A team of researchers led by Professor Dermot Diamond at Dublin’s Adaptive Information Cluster (AIC) working in collaboration with the Marine Institute, Teagasc-Ashtown Food Research Centre and the Irish Fisheries Board-Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), has developed “Smart Packaging” for fresh fish and fish products that tells the consumer if their pre-packed product is spoiled.

The AIC is a major initiative involving researchers from University College Dublin (UCD) and Dublin City University (DCU) funded by Science Foundation Ireland.

The smart packaging is based on a sensor spot inserted within the pack that changes colour from yellow to orange/red in the presence of basic volatiles responsible for the characteristic 'rotten fish' odour of spoiled seafood.

The colour change occurs because the sensor contains a pH sensitive dye that responds like litmus paper to the basic volatiles. Although the colour change can be seen with the naked eye, a low-cost portable colour scanner has also been developed as a means of quantifying the colour change under everyday conditions.

The sensor can be located on an internal adhesive label or encased in a small plastic holder punched through the covering lid which has five hollow barbs to allow the sensor to access the pack atmosphere from the outside while preserving the package integrity.

The sensors were tested in collaboration with Ireland’s biggest seafood producer Oceanpath (Howth) and Irish supermarket Superquinn, known for its quality fresh food offering.

'We are continually looking for ways in which we can monitor freshness and quality and this smart packaging achieves this. We look forward to seeing it roll out across our fish range,' said Emer Barry from Superquinn.

Results have shown that the sensor colour change indicates the end of product shelf life, changes in freshness parameters and growth in microbial population. According to Professor Diamond, the device will allow suppliers to rapidly assess the freshness of their stock while offering a further guarantee of freshness to the consumer.

The team has patented aspects of this research, and is now looking for partners to further develop and commercialise smart packaging technologies such as colour-responsive formulations for this and other food spoilage applications and the optical scanner platform.

The project was funded by Enterprise Ireland (EI), the Marine Institute and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Further details can be accessed at

The SFI funded Adaptive Information Cluster (AIC)  is a multi-disciplinary research group involving leading researchers from UCD and DCU working in sensor science, software engineering, electronic engineering and computer science. Close collaboration with industry and state bodies to develop applications for this research is a priority for the AIC. Particular areas of interest are personal health management, environmental monitoring, personalised retailing, and security and threat detection.