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Active and Intelligent Food Packaging

Active and Intelligent Food Packaging
© QUB

Food packaging is neccessary for moving food products through the food chain and engaging with the final consumer.

Food quality, safety and authenticity are of increasing concern whilst governments have been battling food waste for years. Advances in sensors and biosensors and the development of active and intelligent packaging in recent years has the potential to address these concerns and the large volume of food and drink wasted each year.

Active and Intelligent Packaging

Active packaging provides extra functions beyond providing a protective barrier for food and information to consumers. This includes oxygen-scavening and intelligent functions, antimicrobial activity, atmosphere control, edibility and biodegradability. Intelligent packaging has been categorised as both a part of active packaging and as a seperate entity. Intelligent packaging indicates and monitors the freshness of the packaged food, assisting in food quality and safety verification. Some examples of active and intelligent packaging include:

  • Packaging Diagnostics

Diagnostic packaging uses smart sensor tags and labels that detect seal breakages. This can provide food safety warnings to the consumer, indicating potential food spoilage. It is primarily used in bottles and packaging with caps, seals or lids.

  • Freshness Indicators

Freshness indicators in food packaging react to certain chemicals and atmospheric changes within the package, signaling the freshness of the food inside. The technology uses dye-based technologies that respond to bacterial decomposition; high viscosity media reserves; and radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors that detect ethanol. Looking ahead to the future, freshness indicators could potentially replace use-by dates and help reduce food waste.

  • Temperature Monitoring

Temperature monitoring in food packaging uses temperature sensing RFID tags, scanning thermometers or databars to detect if a temperature threshold has been exceeded at any point during the supply chain.

  • Product Information

Technology can be used in the food packaging, or in the actual food to provide information to the customer. A range of technology can be used to provide such information to the customer, including integrated computer software, printed electronics, augmented reality, databars and RFID tags.

  • Product Traceability

Technology can be used to help identify, track and trace goods during distribution. RFID technology is used to automatically and wirelessly capture and transmit data; whilst databars allows tracking of goods (e.g. Global Trade Item Numbers, or GTIN). For example, Marks and Spencer’s, a food retailer in the United Kingdom, rolled out RFID tags on all of its chilled foods ten years ago. Advances in technology can allow RIFD to be electronicaly printed into tags, eliminating the need for seperate RIFD tags.

A look to the future

Current barriers for the wide spread implementation of active and intelligent packaging include price, accessibility, standardization of the technology across the food chain; data protection concerns; consumer acceptance.

Trends in food packaging technology research and development include:

  • Developing thin or lightweight materials that possess high barrier properties
  • Convenience, both for stakeholders in the food chain and for the final consumer
  • Improving food safety
  • Reducing the opportunity for malicous adulteration of foods
  • Replacing unsustainable food packaging materials
  • Replacing artificial chemical ingredients in foods or packaging materials

Consumer demand and food safety issues will continue to influence the food packaging systems that are being developed.

© QUB
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