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EIT Food News

Legacy of the EIT food project Smart Tags

The EIT Food communication project Smart Tags came recently to an end. This was a one-year project that had the objective study and communicate the applicability of Smart Tags as means to increase consumer trust towards food products. These Smart Tags are “intelligent” labels that can provide consumers with information which regular food labelling cannot. Smart Tags can therefore contribute to sharing information about the food product value chain during the whole life-cycle of the product, enabling novel service concepts and interactivity between consumers and the food industry. Now at the end of the project it is worthwhile to review what was accomplished during the project and how the results can live on beyond the project lifetime.

The project was broken into six tasks, one on management, one on dissemination and the other four tasks were then interlinked; starting with a review of the available Smart Tag technologies and their usage in food value chains, which provided input to a task that focused on assessing consumers’ and other stakeholders’ needs and expectations towards Smart Tags. These then provided valuable input to a task that studied potential novel service concepts that rely on Smart Tag technologies; a task that resulted in identification of 19 Smart Tag enabled service concepts. The most applicable of these concepts were then pre-piloted in selected food value chains in the final task.

The task of reviewing the available Smart Tag technologies and their usage in food value chains was quite extensive. It focused on the available technologies in the domain of intelligent packaging and their enablers and barriers towards consumer acceptance and trust. Three main components of intelligent packaging technology were identified (indicator, sensor and data carrier) and synthesised their most widely found sub-components in literature which include time temperature indicator, freshness indicator, gas indicator, biosensor, gas sensor, barcode and RFID. The task concluded that despite a large number of research work being done in the domain of active and intelligent packaging, there are limited empirical studies that investigated consumer acceptance or trust towards intelligent packaging technologies. The tasks therefore also looked at the technologies proposed for supply chain traceability as it has a similar aim as intelligent packaging which is communication. The tasks also studied the main barriers for intelligent devices in food packaging, and concluded that consumers’ acceptance, legal constrains and some technical issues present a major barrier for wider uptake of Smart Tag solutions in food value chains.  The results of this task will be presented in a peer-reviewed journal article that is planned to be published in 2021.

The task that focused on assessing consumers’ and other stakeholders’ needs and expectations towards Smart Tags was as well very comprehensive. It used results from the previous task as input and further analysed the needs and requirements of consumers and suppliers. This work included in-depth interviews with suppliers in nine countries, focus group sessions in five countries and a wide scale consumer surveys in eight countries. The project has in total received direct input on consumer’s and stakeholder needs and expectations from over 4 thousand people. The results of this work will be presented in a journal article that is planned to be published in 2021. The overall conclusion is that Smart Tags have the potential to meet with many of the consumer’s and supplier’s needs, and that there is a willingness amongst consumers to pay a premium for such solutions.

The task that studied potential novel service concepts that rely on Smart Tag technologies analysed in-depth the potentials, as well as Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Treats associated with the different Smart Tag solutions. The task identified and analysed in total 19 novel Smart Tag enabled service concepts. The results of this work will be presented in a journal article that is planned to be published in 2021. Building on the results of the previous tasks, the most applicable and promising solutions were pre-piloted in the final task. The Smart Tag solutions were selected based on different criteria, depending on the needs in the different value chains and the maturity of the available technologies. The smart Tag technologies pre-piloted were a Nitrogen Smart Tag indicator which was piloted by MATIS (Iceland), AZTI (Spain) and KU Leuven (Belgium) to indicate freshness of different food items. The technology showed particular potentials in seafood value chains, which will be further explored beyond the project. An NFC Smart Tag Temperature logger was also pre-piloted by VTT (FI) and MATIS (IS) but this technology allows consumers and suppliers to monitor temperature of food during logistics and transport. Many fresh and frozen food items are delegate towards temperature, which makes this technology very relevant. The NFC logger pre-piloted in this project was though believed to be more relevant for professionals in the value chains (business-to-business) than for regular consumers, as the temperature readings require expert knowledge to interpreted into quality parameters and shelf-life. The project did also pre-pilot Oxygen Smart Tag indicators which for example can inform consumers and other stakeholders if packaging is leaking. The oxygen indicators were pre-piloted by AZTI (Spain) and LU Leuven (Belgium). The final Smart Tag that was pre-piloted was a ‘Wine Cap’ Tag which provides a unique electronic identity for bottles and other containers. By scanning the label with a smart phone, the consumer can see when and where the wine was grown and bottled as well as get information such as tasting notes and food pairings. The label also includes a temperature indicator which lets the user know when the wine is the ideal temperature to drink.


The Smart tag solutions pre-piloted in the project

The Smart Tags project was classified as a communication project, which means that one of its kay objectives was to communicate to consumers and stakeholders in food value chains what Smart Tags are, how they can be used, what tags are already available and what tags are in development, how they can add value etc. The project met this objective by interacting directly with over four thousand consumers and suppliers, reaching close to seven thousand people as ’media audience’ and over 40 thousand through ’online media impressions’.

The project is now officially finished, but the project’s legacy will still live on through further research & innovation, as well as through scientific peer-reviewed papers as at least four papers are planned to be published in 2021, based on work done in the Smart Tags project.

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EIT Food News

The EIT Food Venture Creation School

Contact

Justine Vanhalst

Project Manager

justine@matis.is

Fifty students with various study backgrounds from all around Europe participated in the Venture Creation School that took place between October 23 and November 14.

A total of 8 teams were formed around 5 main topics reflecting the innovation focus areas of EIT FOOD: Alternative protein, Sustainable agriculture, sustainable aquaculture, Targeted nutrition and Circular food system. 

The teams went through the different stages of innovation and entrepreneurial mindset throughout the 3 weeks from the framing of the challenge, ideation and brainstorming, solution selection, business canvas introduction and finally pitching the idea.

The ideas where reviewed by a jury composed of Kristjana Björk Bjarðdal, Antoine Harfouche and Lauri Reuter.

We also had the chance to have local speaker from Iceland sharing their entrepreneurial journey with our students, like Þór Sigfússon from the Ocean cluster in Reykjavík and Renata Bade young entrepreneur and CEO of GreenBytes. 

The winning team of this small competition has one member located in Reykjavík, James McDaniels, and they are very eager to have their idea seeing the light of the day: Wabi-sabi!

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EIT Food News

The EIT food project Smart Tags – Coordinators review at project end

The Smart Tags EIT food project is a one-year communication project that is about to finish in few days. The project was set to increase consumer trust towards food products by sharing information about the food product value chain during the whole life-cycle of the product, enabling novel service concepts and interactivity between consumers and the food industry. Now at the end of the project the coordinator, Kaisa Vehmas from VTT in Finland, looks in the rear-view mirror to give a constructive overview of the project’s progress and its successes, as well as challenges.

What a year!… When we started the SmartTags project on Feb 2020, we did not know what kind of year was head of us. We kicked-off online, started to know each other step-by-step, even if it was very different compared to face-to-face meeting.


The Smart Tags consortium consists of eight institutions and companies across Europe

The Smart Tags communication project was set to increase consumer trust towards food products by sharing information about the food product value chain during the whole life cycle of the product, enabling novel service concepts and interactivity between consumers and the food industry. Our aim was to screen and evaluate the suitability of different technologies available in the market and understand the needs and expectations of consumers towards how and where interactivity is valued.

The SmartTags consortium included partners from seven different countries: Finland, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Poland, Spain, and UK.

We planned to meet different people from the food value chain. But, most of the year we have worked remotely, from home. However, we have done a lot. Due to the communication type of project, we were not aiming to develop any novel technologies but we gathered our knowledge and implemented a literature review to find if there are other solutions that we are not experienced yet.

We define smart tags as items that will dynamically change their status in response to a variety of factors and will be seamlessly tracked during their lifecycle. We have divided them in three groups: sensors, indicators, data carriers.

IndicatorsSensorsData carriers
Indicators are devices that convey information associated with the presence or absence of a substance, the amount of the substance, or the degree of interaction between two or more substances (Chowdhury and Morey 2019).Sensors are used to detect a wider range of chemicals inside food packages with greater functionalities. Sensors provide continuous output of signals.Data carriers are used as a medium to support traceability of products.
Time temperature indicators Freshness indicators Gas indicators Nitrogen indicatorBiosensors Gas sensorsRFID Barcode

We interacted with stakeholders, by interviewing totally 24 company representatives from all the different participating countries. These interviews were conducted to find out the opinions and experiences of experts regarding Smart Tags and issues related to them; new technologies, consumer communication and consumer trust. According to stakeholders, the biggest motivator for using smart tags is cost, with the benefits of traceability and proof of freshness. In addition, the smart tags should create additional value for consumers.

Consumer felt that the smart tags would add value to the food products by increasing trust and confidence. They liked the possibility to get more information about the food products, increased traceability and helping to decide what to buy. They saw the smart tags also valuable to people with allergies who need or want more information on processing or ingredients. 

In the SmartTags project, we developed and evaluated different concepts that would benefit from using smart tags. Some of these concepts were for different food product categories, like fish, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, beverages, and dairy products. These examples were mainly related to product traceability, and food parameters monitoring. However, there are also some other possibilities for smart tags. In addition, we defined concepts for warehouse management, and logistics, and they could help the stakeholders to create an interactive communication channel with consumers.

During the SmartTags project, we were able to pilot some smart tags solutions in the lab scale. We prepared the nitrogen and oxygen indicators at VTT. These are based on 2D bar codes that have colour-changing areas. Because these types of smart tags are sensitive to environmental conditions, they are dynamic, but they also enable context aware services, as each of them can be unique. Spoiling fish creates nitrogen that can be detected from the package headspace with indicators reacting to changes in environmental conditions (e.g. presence of nitrogen) with visual colour change. The blue bar at the bottom of the code appears when in contact with nitrogen. The reading software can detect colour change in the indicator area. The oxygen indicator is based on the same technical principle as the nitrogen indicator. The third pre-pilot was the temperature logger to monitor temperature history of package. This type of logger can be used to track the temperature of the packaged item to boost sustainable and safe transport as well as storage of temperature sensitive products. This solution is based on an extremely thin NFC temperature monitoring IC for logging and communication, and indicator LEDs for indication of logging and threshold temperature. Temperature data can be accessed via Android application as a user interface.

The results from all these topics are described more in detail in other press releases and reports that can be found from the project web site. Next, we would like to be able to test and evaluate the smart tags solutions in large scale, with real use cases. EIT Food SmartTags has been an exceptional project. During the whole project, we have not been able to meet each other face-to-face. Still, we have received a lot. Looking forward to continue this work in coming projects. Successful and happy New Year!

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EIT Food News

How fresh is your prepacked fish really?

The SmartTags project has placed considerable efforts into exploring consumer needs and expectations when it comes to implementing Smart Tags solutions in food value chains. The project has been getting better understanding of what consumers consider added value enabled by Smart Tags. To be able to do this, we must put ourselves in scenarios that might be familiar with the consumer.

You are shopping in your local store and you intend to have fish for dinner. In the fish section there are variety of species on offer and you start browsing for what seems to be most fresh, but you struggle to valuate that. All the fish in the store is prepacked fillets and there is little information regarding how old or fresh the fish actually is, when it was caught or processed. The prepacked fish is only labelled by “use by” dates, as the regulation demands. You try to estimate the colour of the fillet through the packaging, but you can’t smell it and you can hardly feel the texture through the packaging. Moreover, since it is filleted, you can’t use the good freshness indicators of eyes nor colour of the gills.

Many of us are familiar with this scenario where the consumer has little or no indicators to estimate how fresh the prepacked fish really is, but there might be a solution around the corner. Methylamine compounds, particularly trimethylamine oxide (TMA-O), occur in tissues of marine organisms. With storage, that gets oxidised with help of microorganism to trimethylamine (TMA) which has been related to giving the typical fishy smell and to spoilage of the product.

But how can this be important to the consumer in the store? Well, in the SmartTag project we are looking into TMA indicators, that reacts to certain levels of TMA in the packaging and change colour. Not only change colour but direct the consumer to another homepage from the one that he gets directed to if the fish is fresh when the label is scanned by a consumer with a smartphone. Smart tags like this could support the consumer in making an informed decision when buying prepacked fish products.

The QR code is printed with an ink that changes colour when the level of TMA inside the packaging reaches a threshold. When scanning the QR code with your smart phone, you will therefore be directed to one of two webpages, depending on the freshness of the fish.

For further information, contact jonas@matis.is.

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EIT Food EIT Food News

Can the inclusion of seaweed in cattle feed affect the meat and milk?

The SeaCH4NGE project aims at addressing this.

The University of Reading has recently finished two feeding trials, one with dairy cows and another with beef cattle. Currently Matís personnel is in full force preparing and analysing the chemical and nutrient content of the meat and milk.

Additionally, the products will undergo sensory and texture analysis to investigate whether seaweed in the feed can affect these attributes. The University of Reading has already carried out sensory analysis of the dairy products where first results indicate that astute consumers might be able to taste the difference if these products were to enter the market. The remaining question is – will the trained sensory panel at Matís taste a difference of the meat?

With the project coming to an end soon the SeaCH4NGE research team is looking forward to compiling and scrutinising all the results from the project.

Below are some pictures from the research process.

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EIT Food

Concepts developed for using Smart Tags on food packaging

The Smart Tags EIT food project is set to increase consumer trust towards food products by sharing information about the food product value chain during the whole life-cycle of the product, enabling novel service concepts and interactivity between consumers and the food industry. During the project, one of the main challenges has been the development of these novel service concepts

The development process applied in that work is shown in the following figure.

The project partners analysed different smart tags technologies (QR codes, RFID, sensors, NFC, blockchain) and sensors supported by the conclusions from literature review, brand papers, food manufacturers, business partners. As a result, a total of 19 novel concepts of smart tags were identified for different purposes: product traceability, food parameters monitoring, children education of health food purchasing, creating value for consumers with special needs, e.g. allergies, promotion of staying fit and eating healthy, communication channel with consumers, logistics and warehouse management, sustainability of the product value chain, security, anti-counterfeiting, “Smarterware” – a line of food-storage products that alert users when the contents of their fridge are about to spoil, tracking citrus fruit exports using blockchain, food trust and traceability based on blockchain.

These concepts have now been presented to consumers and other stakeholders in focus groups, surveys and pilot demonstrations, which has provided valuable insights into the applicability of different concepts, how they meet consumer needs and if they provide added value. During the next weeks we will publish the results of this work, showing for example for which products these Smart Tags are most applicable, if consumers are willing to pay a premium for such solutions, and how much?……..so keep following the Smart Tags project #smarttags2020

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EIT Food News

Understanding Communication Strategies for a New Sugar Replacement Product

DouxMatok, a partner in the Smart Tags project, has developed a new sugar reduction solution, Incredo™. Incredo sugar, extracted from cane and beet sugar, is intended to replace regular sugar within different products such as cookies, cakes, chocolates, and spreads, allowing 30%-50% in sugar reduction without compromising the taste. DouxMatok hope to debut Incredo with a new chocolate-based product. However, consumers’ perception towards Incredo is currently unknown. Will they be willing to buy a new product that promotes Incredo? Are they willing to pay higher for a product developed with Incredo on the basis that it contains less sugar? What information do they check when purchasing a new food product (e.g., traceability, sustainability, quality indicators, etc.)?

Through a survey led by KU Leuven, DouxMatok, VTT and AZTI, the project aims to answer these questions, among several European countries, including communication strategies for Incredo and new products developed using Incredo. The role of intelligent packaging technologies in this regard will also be explored. This large-scale survey will target 250-300 consumers from each of the following European countries: Belgium, Finland, UK, Germany, Spain, and Italy.

The survey focuses on 3 main aspects: consumer shopping behaviour and purchase decisions, product-specific questions towards Incredo and the hazelnut spread, and finally attitude towards claims and messages on packaging. The results of the survey will be available before end of the year and will be made public at the Smart Tags webpage.

For further information, contact:

Dr. Nyi-Nyi Htun

Postdoctoral researcher

Department of Computer Science
Celestijnenlaan 200 A box 2402
3001 Leuven
tel. +32 16 37 67 49
http://augment.cs.kuleuven.be

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EIT Food News

Creating Ventures Online Course in Sustainable and Personalized Food

EIT Food online course for university students in creating ventures in sustainable and personalized food starts 23rd of October.

Fifty students with different academic backgrounds will meet online and share their scientific experience and university knowledge to create new concepts and ideas that will lead to development of sustainable and personalized food. This 3-week course managed by professional tutors will introduce participants to several topics such as: innovations in food sector, human nutrition in food systems, food and digital disruptions, as well as business model generation and presentation pitching. Participants will work in interdisciplinary teams, identifying problems, prototyping viable solutions with a validated value proposition and pitching their projects in front of a panel of experts.

The EIT Food RIS Venture Creation School is organized by Matis (Iceland), University of Cambridge (England), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS (Poland). A special input will be also delivered by Finnish start-up businesses operating in the agri-food sector.

Programme structure

This course is delivered online through a variety of methods, including real-time video conference sessions delivered by the course leaders, group ideation sessions with other participants and electronic material to work outside of class.

The programme will take place over 3 weeks starting 23rd October, with 30 hours’ online contact time and 15 hours’ asynchronous learning time during that period.

Application deadline is 11. October.

See video.

More information and application portal.

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EIT Food News

Mole Valley Feed Solutions join the SeacH4NGE team

Contact

Ásta Heiðrún E. Pétursdóttir

Project Manager

asta.h.petursdottir@matis.is

Mole Valley Feed Solutions  are committed to sustainable farming aligning perfectly with the aims of SeaCH4NGE.

Mole Valley Feed Solutions is the largest farmer owned, independent feed manufacturer in the UK and their priority is to continue to innovate, developing new products and services, investing in research along with exploring new technologies and understanding how they can be applied effectively within agriculture.

The addition of Mole Valley Feed Solutions to the SeaCH4NGE project is a welcome and much needed addition in order to better understand the feed industry perspective when researching and developing a seaweed feed ingredient which may reduce methane emissions from cattle as well as have other beneficial attributes. 

We warmly welcome Mole Valley Feed Solutions to the project!

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EIT Food News

State-of-the-art Technologies in Intelligent Packaging

Dr. Nyi-Nyi Htun
KU Leuven, Belgium

Due to the increasing demand towards sustainable productions that calls for ensuring the safety and quality of food and reducing incident risks and environmental impact, contemporary food business organisations have begun to focus on the possibilities to expand the shelf life of perishable food products by reducing the demand for additives and preservatives, and at the same time considering changes in quality. To this end, smart packaging systems which utilise technologies, for example oxygen scavengers, antimicrobial agents, sensors and status indicators, have emerged (Realini and Marcos 2014).

While traditional packaging focused on the use of inert materials which comes in contact with food, smart packaging systems are based on the useful interaction between packaging environment and the food to provide active protection to the food and a better understanding of product condition for consumers (Biji et al. 2015). Smart packaging systems involve two concepts: active and intelligent packaging (Biji et al. 2015; Vanderroost et al. 2014). The following figure shows a framework proposed by Yam et al. (Yam, Takhistov, and Miltz 2005) which encapsulates various packaging technologies.

Framework of active and intelligent packaging. (Yam et al. 2005)

Fundamentally, active packaging aims to achieve better protection of the product whereas intelligent packaging to achieve better communication with consumers. Intelligent packages allow monitoring the quality/safety condition of a food product and can provide early warning to the consumer or food manufacturer, whereas active packages release a type of substance such as an antimicrobial or antioxidant within the package to protect the food product. Typically, intelligent packaging systems contain smart devices which are small, inexpensive labels or tags that are capable of acquiring, storing, and transferring information about the functions and properties of the packaged food (Fang et al. 2017).

This article presents an overview of available technologies in intelligent packaging by synthesing a number of existing research papers (Biji et al. 2015; Chowdhury and Morey 2019; Fang et al. 2017; Ghaani et al. 2016; Kuswandi et al. 2011; Lloyd, Mirosa, and Birch 2018; Mohebi and Marquez 2015; Müller and Schmid 2019; Singh et al. 2018; Vanderroost et al. 2014). To begin with, intelligent packaging includes 3 distinct technologies; these are indicators, sensors and data carriers. The following table (curated from (Fang et al. 2017; Mohebi and Marquez 2015; Pavelková 2013) highlights an overview of indicators, sensors and data carriers that are being used in the domain of intelligent packaging.


TECHNOLOGYPRINCIPLES/REAGENTSINFORMATION GIVENAPPLICATIONADVANTAGESDISATVANTAGES
Time-temperatures indicatorsMechanical, chemical, enzymaticStorage conditions  Foods stored under chilled and frozen conditionsEasy to integrate, can be checked by naked eye, cheap and economical, can be measured by electronic devicesNo information about quality of food, must be conditioned before use, no contact with food
Freshness indicators (e.g. microbial growth)pH dyes, all dyes reacting with certain metabolitesMicrobial quality of food (i.e. spoilage)Perishable foods such as meat, fish and poultrySensitive, can be checked by naked eye, cheap and economical, can be measured by electronic devicesProne to false negatives results, may interfere in food quality
Gas indicatorsRedox dyes, pH dyes, enzymesStorage conditions, package leakFoods stored in packages with required gas compositionCan be integrated into the packaging films, can be checked by naked eye, cheap and economical, can be measured by electronic devicesNo information about gas concentration, chemical dye may interfere in food quality
Biosensor (e.g. pathogen)Various chemical and immunochemical methods reacting with toxinsSpecific pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli O:157Perishable foods such as meat, fish and poultryCan be integrated into the packaging films, can be checked by naked eye, cheap and economical, can be measured by electronic devices, pathogen and microbial detectionCannot detect low concentrated contamination, may have chemical effect on the food
Gas sensorsMetal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs), piezo-electric crystal sensors, amperometric oxygen sensors, organic conducting polymers, and potentiometric carbon dioxide sensorsConcentration of carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen sulphide  Perishable foods such as meat, fish and poultrySensitive, can be integrated into the packaging films, high spatial resolution, can be checked by naked eye and optical devices, not affected by heat, electromagnetic and stirringFouling of sensor membranes, cross-sensitivity to carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide, consumption of the analyte (e.g., oxygen)
BarcodesSymbologyProduct and manufacturer informationProduct identification, facilitating inventory control, stock reordering, and checkoutFast, cheap, easy to printRequires line of sight
RFID tagsRadio wavesProduct and manufacturer informationProduct identification, supply chain management, asset tracking, security controlAccurate, fast, can be printed into barcodes.The signal can be lost due to interference, printed tags can be expensive.

Indicators

Indicators are devices that convey information associated with the presence or absence of a substance, the amount of the substance, or the degree of interaction between two or more substances (Chowdhury and Morey 2019). Typically, such information is displayed to consumers through visual changes, for example, different colour intensities or the diffusion of a dye along a straight path (Biji et al. 2015). Literature has highlighted three different types of indicators: time temperature indicators, freshness indicators and gas indicators (Biji et al. 2015; Chowdhury and Morey 2019; Müller and Schmid 2019).

Time Temperature Indicators

Time temperature indicators (TTIs) can be placed in individual or bulk packages to convey time-temperature history of a product (Chowdhury and Morey 2019). They are particularly useful to warn consumers of temperature abuse for chilled or frozen food products (Pavelková 2013). A subcategory of TTIs known as thermochromic ink uses a type of functional ink that changes colour with exposure to different temperatures (Vanderroost et al. 2014). By definition, function inks are printable inks that react to environmental changes with colour change (Glicoric et al. 2019). Other examples of functional ink include photochromic inks that change their colour when the intensity of incoming light changes, invisible fluorescent inks that can be seen under UV or IR light, phosphorescent inks that glow in the dark after exposure to a source of light, hydrochromic inks that change colour after contact with water, and touch’n smell inks that release aroma when rubbed with a finger, among others (TagItSmart, 2017).

Vitsab® L5-8 TTI seafood label. Image: http://vitsab.com/index.php/tti-label/, accessed on 26 May 2020. The green boxes are examples of the TTI labels at various stages of thermal exposure and the orange boxes are examples of potentially compromised food product (red dots) and faulty indicator (white dot)
QR code printed on a beer bottle with thermochromic ink that activates and becomes visible when the temperature is lower than 8 °C. Image: (Gligoric et al. 2019)

Freshness Indicators

Freshness indicators provide direct product quality information resulting from microbial growth or chemical changes within a food product (Chowdhury and Morey 2019). Certain metabolites that are targeted in detecting freshness are organic acids, ethanol, volatile nitrogen, biogenic amines, carbon dioxide, glucose, and sulfuric compounds (Kerry, O’Grady, and Hogan 2006). Freshness is determined through reactions between indicators included within the package and said compounds (Ghaani et al. 2016).

SensorQTM freshness indicator label (Food Quality Sensor International (FQSI), Inc., USA). Image: (O’Grady and Kerry 2008). The colour inside of the letter ‘Q’ on the label indicates freshness (orange = fresh and tan = not fresh)

Gas Indicators

Gas indicators can monitor changes in the inside atmosphere of a package due to microorganism metabolism and enzymatic or chemical reactions on the food (Ghaani et al. 2016). Oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations are most commonly captured by gas indicators (Müller and Schmid 2019) since their concentration is strongly correlated with spoilage (Meng et al. 2014). Gas indicators often use redox dyes, a reducing compound and an alkaline compound to indicate the concentration (Ghaani et al. 2016).

AGELESS EYE oxygen indicator by Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, Inc. Image: https://www.mgc.co.jp/eng/products/sc/ageless-eye.html, accessed on 26 May 2020. The indicator turns to blue or purple when exposed to oxygen and returns to its original pink colour when oxygen in the package is reduced.

Sensors

Sensors are used to detect a wider range of chemicals inside food packages with greater functionalities. They can detect and respond to some type of input from the physical environment, and the output is generally a signal that is converted to a human-readable display. Unlike indicators which can display the state of a product in the package, sensors are often monitored by an external device (Kerry et al. 2006). Sensors commonly found in literature are biosensors are gas sensors.

Biosensors

Biosensors are used to detect, record and transmit information pertaining to biological reactions of food products (Biji et al. 2015). They contain a bioreceptor that recognises elements such as enzymes, antigens, hormones, nucleic acids, etc. and a transducer which uses optical amperometry, acoustic and electrochemical sensors, connected to data acquisition and processing system (Chowdhury and Morey 2019).

Gas Sensors

Gas sensors are used for detecting the presence of gaseous analyte in the package, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapour, ethanol, hydrogen sulphide, etc. (Biji et al. 2015). As the spoilage status of a food product can be determined by monitoring the concentration of certain gases, like carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulphide (Müller and Schmid 2019), gas sensors in food packaging often focus on monitoring such gases.

Data Carriers

Data carriers are used as a medium to support traceability of products. Radiofrequency identification (RFID) and barcode are the most common forms of data carrier used in this domain (Robertson 2016). They make the information flow within the food supply chain more efficient by supporting automatization and traceability. Smartphones nowadays are capable of reading most RFID tags and barcodes which makes them the most ideal starting point to enhance communication with consumers.

RFID

RFID uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. They are the most advanced example of a data carrier (Ghaani et al. 2016). An RFID system includes three main elements: 1) a tag formed by a microchip connected to a tiny antenna, 2) a reader that emits radio signals and receives answers from the tag in return and 3) a middleware (i.e. a network connection, web server, etc.) that bridges the RFID hardware and enterprise applications (Ghaani et al. 2016). With recent breakthroughs in the domain of printed electronics, RFID tags can be printed on flexible substrates such as polyimide, PEEK, PET, transparent conductive polyester, steel and even paper using electrically functional inks (Vanderroost et al. 2014).

An example RFID system showing three main elements: a tag, a reader and middleware (network, web server, etc.). Image: (Fang et al. 2017)

Barcodes

Barcodes are the most basic form of data carrier in intelligent packaging. They have been used in food packaging since 1970 to accelerate inventory control, stock reordering and checkout of products (Manthou and Vlachopoulou 2001). Although barcodes traditionally do not provide any kind of information on the quality status of food, a number of previous work has explored the possibilities of using thermochromic ink to print barcodes (Ghaani et al. 2016; Vanderroost et al. 2014), or combining environmental sensitive areas with 2-dimensional barcodes (aka QR codes) (Gligoric et al. 2019).

A 1-dimensional barcode (left) and a 2-dimensional barcode (QR code) (right)

Conclusion

This article presents an overview of the state of the arts in intelligent packaging technology. In general, there are three main components in intelligent packaging technology: indicator, sensor and data carrier. Some of the most popular sub-components of the three main components include time temperature indicator, freshness indicator, gas indicator, biosensor, gas sensor, RFID and barcode. Quite a number of research work has already identified a great number of commercially available smart packaging technologies that are inexpensive (Biji et al. 2015; Chowdhury and Morey 2019; Fang et al. 2017; Ghaani et al. 2016; Kuswandi et al. 2011; Lloyd et al. 2018; Mohebi and Marquez 2015; Müller and Schmid 2019; Singh et al. 2018; Vanderroost et al. 2014). Despite this, we have not yet seen the majority of said technologies being used widely. Research has suggested that end-user acceptance and trust towards a given technology have a strong influence on their adoption of the technology (Suh and Han 2002; Wu et al. 2011). In the next article, we will look at the barriers and enablers influencing the adoption of intelligent packaging technologies from end-user point of view.

Cover Photo: Shutterstock

References

Biji, K. B., C. N. Ravishankar, C. O. Mohan, and T. K. Srinivasa Gopal. 2015. “Smart Packaging Systems for Food Applications: A Review.” Journal of Food Science and Technology 52(10):6125–35.

Chowdhury, E. U. and A. Morey. 2019. “Intelligent Packaging for Poultry Industry.” Journal of Applied Poultry Research 28(4):791–800.

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