One thing that you will see on almost every food item you buy is a label. The labels on food provide consumers with a range of information, such as the nutrition data, the ingredients of a product, allergy and storage advice, where the product is manufactured, and the weight. You might also see cooking instructions or suggestions on the packaging. A further piece of information you will see is the dates that advise you of when the product is no longer at its best and the date by which you should use the product before you discard it. Now, things are all set to change with the introduction of smart food labels. Here is an overview of what smart food labels are and how they are beneficial for the future.
In short, smart labels are labels that change in appearance to let consumers know when food is no longer fit to eat. According to Ask Men, the label changes color to either cloudy or blue when it detects that bacteria is starting to grow. The color changes occur in response to changing levels of oxygen and bacteria within the packaging. The smart labels solve a few problems with the current labeling system. First, the best before and use by dates are only given as guidance. They are not always accurate and, in some countries, dates are not even regulated. In many cases, the food is still safe to eat for long after the use-by date says the food has expired. This means that people are discarding food completely unnecessarily.
This is not the only problem with adhering to the dates given on the packaging. The dates do not take into account what may happen to the food between leaving the factory and arriving in the shop. If the food is stored incorrectly for even a short period, or if the packaging is damaged in any way during transit, then it is possible that the food may begin to grow bacteria much sooner and that the food will expire well before the stated date. It is not always possible for a consumer to tell if the food has been stored properly or there has been damage. Another problem is that the dates and other information on a label are not always legible. There are probably times you have looked at a label only to realize the ink is smeared or that a spillage in your grocery bags has caused a stain over the writing. Similarly, the print is often small and difficult to read clearly, which is a problem for many people.
If people are aware that use-by dates are not set in stone, they may use other methods of determining if a food is still safe. For example, they may look at the color and texture of food, have a good smell, or feel a food product. In some cases, these tests are fairly accurate in determining if a food is still safe to eat. However, it is not that simple with all food products as there are some that give very few signs that they are no longer safe to eat and that you need to discard them. Smart food labels resolve all these problems as there is no need to play a guessing game with regards to the safety of the food. The use of a label that changes color simplifies this situation and leaves little room for ambiguity.
There are many benefits to using smart food labels that have both short-term and long-term positive implications. According to Big Think, one of the main advantages is that using the labels will significantly reduce food waste, which is a global problem. People throw away billions of dollars of food every year that is perfectly good to eat. Another of the main advantages is preventing illnesses that are caused by bacteria growing on food. This includes both E. coli and salmonella, both of which are potentially fatal forms of food poisoning. If people can clearly see that the food is no longer safe to eat, then they will not contract serious bacterial infections.
In addition to the color-changing smart labels, there are scientists working on other forms of smart food labels that will serve the same purpose. One example is a type of packaging that will begin to bubble when the food is no longer safe for consumption. The advantage of this over color-changing labels is that people with a visual impairment will have a way to identify food that is unsafe. In the future, there is the potential for smart labeling in sectors outside the food industry, says Science Mag. One example is for packaging in the cosmetics industry. When you have used an item of makeup several times and then store it away, bacteria can grow on the surface of the makeup.
After not using the makeup for a while, it can become dangerous to use. By using cosmetics with bacteria growth, you are at risk of contracting a skin or eye infection. This is a problem that many people are not aware of, and they are surprised when they begin having skin and eye problems without realizing that their cosmetic products are the cause. Applying the same type of smart labels that are now being used on food could warn you about when cosmetics are no longer safe and you should throw them away.
Overall, smart food labels have great potential for the future. Both the labels that change color and the ones that begin to bubble can resolve the issues with traditional labeling and the inaccurate information it provides. This will significantly reduce food waste and cut the number of people suffering from food-related bacterial diseases. This technology is still in development and scientists are working on other uses for this labeling. Therefore, there is the potential to see smart labels appearing on many products outside the food industry in the future.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson