Ynvisible Interactive and Innoscentia innovate on disruptive food label spoilage technology
27 Nov 2020 --- Canada-based printed electronics company Ynvisible Interactive is teaming up with Swedish group Innoscentia to develop interactive labels that can detect spoiled food more accurately than traditional expiry dates.
The collaboration hopes its innovation will provide a breakthrough solution to the global issue of food waste.
Until now, smart label technology designed to detect spoiling food has relied on measuring proxies such as time or temperature, Erik Månsson, CEO of Innoscentia, explains to PackagingInsights.
“Our technology is based on reactive ink with the ability to sense the gas concentration within food packages. In the degradation process, several volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are produced, and we measure a number of these correlating with the freshness of the product.”
“Disrupting” food labeling systems
The partners have worked together in R&D, bringing together different technologies to experiment with the concept of interactive labeling, Månsson explains.
“Innoscentia is the developer and producer of the ink, and Ynvisible produces the printed electronics platform with the possibility to transmit a radio frequency identification (RFID)-signal with information about the freshness through our ink.”
“The platform also gives possibilities to indicate the status on a small display.”
The technology is in its early days and awaiting a mass production method, but the critical hurdles have been overcome, he says.
“We have spent a lot of time in the lab to calibrate the ink reaction to the gas concentration and have now found a great formula.”
The challenges are now to implement this into the sensor platform and then produce it on a large scale.
“The results of the project will hopefully move us a big step closer toward disrupting the current labeling system of food and help us create a more sustainable food value chain in the future,” Månsson continues.
In 2021, the collaboration aims to further develop its results by creating an analog version of the labels with changing colors. Innoscentia says this will pilot in the spring.
“No technology can compete with ours”
Philip Holgersson, a business developer at Ynvisible, outlines the three crucial areas in integrating interactive displays on food labels.
“Low power consumption enables wireless powering, while flexibility enables a label-like form factor. Finally, low cost is a must for integration on packages.”
Holgersson says Ynvisible is in a position to tailor its technology to different applications in ways that no other company can currently compete with.
“At Ynvisible, we can offer clients tailored R&D services to incorporate our displays into existing products as we have done for Innoscentia.”
Throwing out traditional labels
An estimated 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year globally, equating to 32 percent of all food produced, Dr. Nina McGrath, senior manager for food & health science at the European Food Information Council, previously told PackagingInsights.
Carbon emissions resulting from wasted food production are estimated to be massive; if food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest producer of CO2 on earth, she said.
Industry innovations designed to stop consumers throwing out food unnecessarily because of inaccurate static labeling systems could put a significant dent in the amount currently wasted, says Månsson.
“The date system we use today entails large safety margins, and the shelf life is often calculated based on the worst-case scenario in terms of conditions in the value chain.”
“By providing the actual status of the product at all times in the product’s lifetime, we will be able to unlock shelf life that is today lost when the expiry date is reached. Studies show that just a few extra days added to the shelf life can significantly reduce the amounts we waste.”
Industry fighting food waste
Ynvisible and Innoscentia’s developments mark a milestone in industry innovations tackling food waste.
Antimicrobial packaging, which kills pathogenic microorganisms like foodborne diseases, is another budding technology awaiting mass adoption. Its potential to extend the shelf life of food and reduce wastage could be enormous, experts believe.
The NanoPack project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 scheme, is investigating various other areas of nanotechnology to preserve food shelf life.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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