The Evolution Of Food Labeling

September 20, 2014

Are you the type to smell the milk just to make sure it hasn’t expired before you chug it straight from the carton? Etiquette failures aside, there’s some good news for you. A new smart food labeling system could save you that smell test.

Engineers at the University of Alberta are fine-tuning a new type of smart label that will change colors to notify you if the food has gone bad. As a consumer, you won’t notice a difference in the packaging, as it will look virtually the same.

However, the main upgrade will be that the label will change from blue to white or cloudy if the food is filled with bacteria.

There’s a number of reasons it could go bad ranging from previous contamination, like a spread of Salmonella, to the food simply expiring.

At the same time, expiry dates aren’t always accurate, as eggs tend to last much longer than the label indicates, while other foods can become bacteria beds long before the expiry date — especially if not properly stored.

The challenge for most of us is that with certain foods, it’s hard to tell if they’ve become infested with bacteria.

Sometimes there will be a clear discoloration or a noticeably pungent smell, but some food items don’t give us the signs.

While the researchers are first focusing on food safety in terms of expiry and contamination, it’s only a matter of time before smart food labeling expands to other realms.

There’s a big push to get better labeling on grocery store products — especially in the United States with GMO’s — and while we hear lots about smarter labeling, it’s often this type of “smart” that we’re referring to.

This is a three-year project that in its second year, but the results are fairly positive so far. One of the last steps is to make this affordable enough so that food corporations get on board.

It’s not expected to be a huge hurdle not just because they want to please the consumer. They’re interested because they’ll be able to save money in terms of food recalls by catching the problem early.