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Univ. Developing Plastic That Tells When Food Goes Bad

Packaged fruit (FDA)


Chemists at University of Strathclyde in the U.K. are developing a new form of food packaging that tells consumers when the contents have started to spoil. The university received a £325,000 ($502,500) grant from the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Programme to support the project.

The problem of food spoilage is important to both consumers and industry. In the U.K. alone, some 8.3 million metric tons (9.15 million short tons) of food each year is wasted due to spoilage. While food companies can add freshness indicators to their packaging, the indicators add extra costs to the packaging process, which either must be passed on to the consumer or absorbed by the company. Some consumers are also confused by “use before” or “sell by” dates on food labels, once the product is taken home.

A team led by Andrew Mills, a chemistry professor at Strathclyde, is working on a new type of plastic packaging material for perishable food that acts as its own freshness indicator. Mills’s research interests include dye and semiconductor photochemistry, redox catalysis, and optical gas sensing.

The new — more intelligent — plastic would change color when food is about to lose its freshness because it has broken or damaged packaging, has exceeded its expiration date, or has been poorly refrigerated. The new plastic is expected to be used with a new form of food container known as modified atmosphere packaging, which keeps food in specially-created conditions that prolong its shelf life.

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