The average Briton throws away a staggering £700 of food, that is still perfectly okay to eat, every year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Recent research has found more than half the world’s food is thrown away.
Now a new smart label has been launched in a bid to reassure families about what they can and can’t eat and to cut down the wasteful food mountain.
British company Insignia Technologies, which has already had interest in its new system from as far afield as France and America, has unveiled the label after the technology was invented by Professor Andrew Mills while he worked at Glasgow’s Strathclyde University.
Each label would add around 2p to the cost of a packet of food, but it is hoped they will still save householders money by preventing them from throwing away edible food.
The smart labels work by activating when a food package is opened and changing colour using a traffic light system to show whether the contents are still safe to eat.
Labels go from brown, when they have just been opened, to orange if they need to be used up soon and, finally, to purple if they are past their best.
They are expected to be used on pre-packaged foods like ham or cheese that need to be eaten within a specific number of days after they are opened – even if they are still within their use-by-date.
They are effective with foods that have been packaged in atmospheres which use carbon dioxide. Once the packet is opened, the CO2 released triggers a timer in the label so it begins its colour changing mechanism.
The labels can be changed by adjusting the thickness of the coating, so it can indicate whether food has gone off at between two and seven days.
Now working as a professor in materials chemistry at Belfast’s Queen’s University, Prof Mills described the invention as “a huge development for consumers and for the food industry”.
He added: “We have all gone to the fridge and thought ‘I can’t remember how long ago I opened that’, and we err on the side of caution and tend to throw it away.
“This indicator is focused on how long the package has been open. This is vital to prevent good food being thrown away. It would reassure you that it’s only been open for a day, and it is fine to eat.”
He said anything that would cut down on food waste had to be a good thing, adding: “The levels of food waste are unsustainable.”
Prof Mills said the invention could also be used for frozen foods that had been defrosted, because consumers would not simply be able to check the best before date.
The Lanarkshire-based company is now working on similar systems for fruit which would be based on stickers, cosmetics like mascara and foundation, or pharmaceutical drugs.
Chief operating officer Stephen Currie described the innovation as “fantastic,” adding: “It is something which can help restore shoppers’ confidence.”