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Technologies > Audit and Certification

Shelf-life smart labels could hit shelves in 2013 - developer

By Jane Joseph , 13-Aug-2012

An innovative colour changing label which tells consumers how fresh their food is could hit supermarket shelves in the UK next year, says developer UWI Label.

The company is hoping the technology will go mainstream some time in 2013, depending on the results of trials due to take place in the spring.

“For the trials we will put the labels on a test number of food products, which will then be taken to certain supermarkets and tracked”, the technology’s creator Pete Higgins told FoodProductionDaily.com. “This two-pronged approach will give us feedback from both the manufacturer and the consumer.”

The results of the trial will allow the company to analyse manufacturing processes and make sure the labels do not slow down packaging production, he added.

“The labels are added at the end of manufacturing, in a similar way to tamper proof strips, and using the same equipment,” said Higgins. “Obviously there is a cost but it is only a matter of pence and is within the same range as similar labels on the market.” 

Elapsed time indicator

The company’s colour-changing label works by having a trip that turns from green to red once the food is no longer safe to eat. A special strip indicates food age in weeks on a scale of 1-4 and shows a red square once time is up.

Last year, Higgins claimed that the product is unique because it is the only one he knows of that has an ‘elapsed time indicator’ to trigger a time device when the product is opened. 

The firm initially developed an electronic prototype, then an electrical/chemical hybrid, before settling on a wholly chemical indicator.

“The boon of the product is that it withstands temperature changes and is equally effective in both the cupboard and fridge: electronics are more costly and sensitive to temperature changes,” he said.

UWI Label developed the technology over three years with help from Heriot Watt University.

International funding

Although Higgins would not reveal the names of any partners or brands involved in the trials, he said UWI has received a funding, in terms of a grant, from the US.

“We are developing products for the aviation industry as well because there is the same problem with glues and sealants as there is with food – some glues only last 40 hours after opening,” he said.

UWI has also received funding from Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS), a sustainability initiative which is supported by the Scottish government and designed to help SMEs reduce product and packaging waste.

ZWS awarded over £240,000 of funding last October, with some of the money going to UWI to help the company commercialise the technology. 

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