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Food safety goes digital with time-temperature sensor

By Joe Whitworth+

10-Mar-2014

Thinfilm has partnered with Bemis for printed electronics
Thinfilm has partnered with Bemis for printed electronics

Thinfilm has developed time-temperature sensors that can be attached to packaging and tell when food in the supply chain has spoiled or reached a certain temperature.

The printed sensor system will be able to monitor individual packages to ensure their contents have been kept at a safe or optimal temperature and provide data electronically for use and analysis.

Bemis partnered with the printed electronics company in 2012 and said at the time that the systems should be on the market sometime this year .

The firm originally plans to use the label sensors on the outside of the packaging but believes it might be possible to have them on the inside sometime in the future.

Sensor potential

Jennifer Ernst, executive vice president sales and business development at Thinfilm, said it brings cell phone readability to labels.

“If it is on the inside it could monitor freshness but if it is on the outside it would be the environmental conditions,” she told FoodQualityNews.com.

“If we take fresh meat as an example, NFC allows information to be available for the consumer or the distributor, such as how long the meat was exposed to certain temperatures during shipment.

“For a product shipment into a retailer, the display on the label or device could be read by the retailer with NFC by taking the phone and touching it to the label.”

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland used NFC technology as part of a research project in 2012 .

NFC technology

Ernst said it uses near-field communication (NFC) and more mobile phones are becoming available with the technology built in.

She said their technology replaces traditional semiconductor components with fully printable systems.

“You can add sensor functions, so temperature threshold gives you the platform to add humidity and oxygen exposure so you know more about how to make localised food decisions, such as once it is open – how long has it been open for.”

Thinfilm is focused on enabling the smart labels to send information to smartphones, ensuring real-time monitoring of perishable goods.

The firm said its technology has the potential to prevent consumer consumption of dangerous spoiled goods, cut food supply chain costs and help suppliers prevent food recalls.

Ernst said the firm sat in a ‘sweet spot’ between colour changing labels and expensive technology with the tags costing less than US$1.

“There are other electronic methods but they cost between $10 and $15 per device so you can only have one or two per truck. With this you can have five, six or seven per truck and more granularity in different regions of transit.

“Colour changing labels can show you about changes in temperature but cannot communicate information digitally.”

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