Food packaging to incorporate freshness indicator

Strathclyde University researchers are developing a plastic indicator that alerts consumers to food that is starting to go off.

The new indicator will change colour to provide a warning 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.

The indicator 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.

Today, freshness indicators typically take the form of labels inserted in a package but these come at a significant cost. Strathclyde researchers are looking to create a new type of indicator that is an integral part of the packaging and so is far less expensive. The project has received £325,000 in support from the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Programme.

Prof Andrew Mills, of the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, who is currently leading the Strathclyde project, said: ’We hope that the indicator will reduce the risk of people eating food that is no longer fit for consumption and help prevent unnecessary waste of food.’

By giving a clear and unambiguous sign that food is beginning to perish, the indicator being developed at Strathclyde could resolve potential confusion about the different significances of best-before dates and sell-by dates. They could also help to highlight the need for food to be stored in refrigerators that are properly sealed.

An estimated 8.3 million tonnes of household food – most of which could have been eaten – is wasted in the UK each year.