The approach to developing smart or intelligent food labels that would help make food products safer for consumers and reduce food waste has been a topic of conversation for many years. However, so far not much of the developed concepts utilizing different approaches have not been implemented by the food industry or applied to products.

Based on the article Global Food Waste and its environmental impact

"An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year, one-third of all food produced for human consumption, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

The amount of food lost or wasted costs 2.6 trillion USD annually and is more than enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world - four times over."

This is caused by a lack of knowledge by consumers as to what the food label such as ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ actually means. According to a recent study, "a considerable amount of household food waste (between 15-33%) can be traced back to misunderstanding the dates shown on edible products. In specific, the ‘best before’ date, representing the recommended last consumption date, is often confused with the ‘use by’ date, intended for foodstuffs that are highly perishable (such as fresh meat or dairy products)." 

The article below highlights the latest published smart food label approach and describes a new smart label with incorporated microneedles that can effectively collect samples from the food product and give results in real-time without opening the package.

"...... Marelli and his team have developed a silk-based technology that can sample fluids deep in food tissues and render a colorimetric or color change signal to indicate the presence or absence of pathogenic bacteria."

The article is based on the scientific publication:

Doyoon Kim, et al., A Microneedle Technology for Sampling and Sensing Bacteria in the Food Supply Chain, Advanced Functional Materials (2020). DOI: 10.1002/adfm.202005370

"Food quality monitoring, particularly, the detection of bacterial pathogens and spoilage throughout the food supply chain, is critical to ensure global food safety and minimize food loss. Incorporating sensors into packaging is promising, but it is challenging to achieve the required sampling volume while using foodsafe sensor materials. Here, by leveraging waterbased processing of silk fibroin, a platform for the detection of pathogenic bacteria in food is realized using a porous silk microneedle array; the microneedle array samples fluid from the interior of the food by capillary action, presenting the fluid to polydiacetylenebased bioinks printed on the backside of the array. Through the colorimetric response of bioink patterns, Escherichia coli contamination in fish fillets is identified within 16 h of needle injection. This response is distinct from spoilage measured via the increase in sample pH. It is also shown that the microneedles can pierce commercial food packaging, and subsequently sample fluid and present it to the sensor, enabling the adaptation of the technology downstream in food supply chains such as in stores or at home. This study highlights that regenerated structural biopolymers can serve as safe materials for food contact and sensing with robust mechanical properties and tailored chemistry."

Thanks to Victoria for this great update and Doyoon Kim, et al. for the impressing new development work.