Several supermarkets and food chains in Britain are set to begin testing food labels that change color automatically over time to let a customer know if their food is still fresh enough to eat, FoodProductionDaily, is reporting. BBB News adds that the colored labels have already undergone extensive testing both in the private sector and within governmental agencies. Mail Online says, the new labels should help prevent throwing out food that has not yet spoiled.
People throw away hundreds of pounds of food every year, Online says, that hasn’t gone bad yet, because people worry they will get sick eating something they don’t know how long has been lying around. Many foods have an expiration date, of course, but that is the worst case scenario, and those that make them tend to include a fudge factor to take into account how long the food was out of the refrigerator after being brought home, as well as between times it’s been opened to be eaten. There is also the difference in refrigerator temperatures. The result FPD says, is food being thrown away out of fear its gone bad when it hasn’t, leading to enormous waste the world over. A possible solution, the BBB says, is color coded labels that change over time automatically. Just as people have grown used to traffic sign colors and their meaning, so too could they grow accustomed to looking at the color of the label on the packaging.
It works, FPD says, by means of decomposition of a material embedded with special chemicals when exposed to others. In this case, because most food is first vacuum sealed, then infused with carbon dioxide, the label is made to begin degrading when first exposed to oxygen. As it degrades, it changes color, starting at brown, progressing to orange and then settling at purple. In this case, a brown label would mean the food is still fresh, orange means it should be eaten soon, and purple means it’s time to toss it out. By varying the thickness of the label the researchers that came up with the labels discovered they were able to match the decay time of the labels with the expiration times of the foods they are meant to serve.
Online says it’s an idea that would work even better with foods that are frozen then thawed at a later date, because expiration dates become moot. The color labels wouldn’t start to change until the food has been thawed and opened, starting a freshness timer to help people figure out whether their food is still fresh enough to eat. They add that the British government believes the labels could wind up saving consumers hundreds of dollars a year in food costs.