What if food labels could tell you in real time if your food has gone bad?
That’s the vision of a UK-based startup that has developed a set of smart food labels to determine food freshness. The labels do this via an embedded sensor that detects the ammonia levels being produced by the food.
As described by packaging trade publication Packaging World, the smart labeling developed by BlakBear has “two electrodes printed on it as well as an embedded RFID chip.” As food spoils, ammonia is released and the gas is “absorbed into the paper’s cellulose fibers and then dissociates into ions. The electrodes sense and measure the ionic conductivity present in the layer of water that is already naturally present in the paper’s fibers to determine the shelf life of the product.”
Most of us can detect food spoilage by smelling the ammonia emitted as food decomposes, but by the time that happens, it’s usually too late to save the item. According to one of the company’s founders, BlakBear’s sensors are up to 100 times more sensitive than the human nose when it comes to detecting spoilage.
Smart labeling that can detect food freshness is not new. I wrote about a group of researchers from China’s Nanjing University and the University of Texas at Austin in 2018 that were developing a similar technology that would detect biogenic amines (BAs) and communicate spoilage using an embedded NFC chip.
Amazon has also been looking at technology that could detect food spoilage. Back in 2017, I wrote about a patent the company had filed for similar technology that could go into refrigerators and detect the gas emitted as food decomposed.
BlakBear is also interested in bringing this type of technology into the home, only instead of building into an appliance, they are working on a smart food container. The company is creating a system called HoneyBox that incorporates the freshness sensor and then communicates with an app via Bluetooth. The device will send reminders and act as a countdown clock on long the food will be edible.
While BlakBear isn’t saying when the product will be into market, the company is currently evaluating consumer attitudes around potential features and pricing for HoneyBox.
And from the looks of it, HoneyBox isn’t the only product the company has in the works. According to BlakBear’s CEO Max Grell, the company is also working on another bear-themed piece of hardware called BearCub that they are trialing with retailers. BearCub, according to Grell, would also be available to use in consumer homes.
We’re racing towards smart labels for package level freshness visibility. In the meantime we developed “BearCub”, a larger device that is trialing now with major UK retailers and protein processors. BearCub also enables consumers to measure their food freshness at home! pic.twitter.com/SyWVSbqEl2— Max Grell (@MaxMGrell) July 7, 2020
Hopefully, both will be available soon, as I think there’s a huge opportunity for better food management systems that can help us reduce food waste. I’ve long wondered why home food storage has been stuck in time and why the incumbents don’t bring those cheap plastic containers into the future (not that they aren’t trying). Sure, there’s been some small progress by some startups (I’m still waiting for my Silo), but not nearly as much as there should be.