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Reducing food waste, made possible by smart expiry date labels

June 28, 2024

Huge amounts of food are wasted yearly, and misleading expiry date labels are part of the reason this happens. Terms like sell-by, use-by, best-before create confusion and lead people to not buying food that is still safe to be consumed. Furthermore, retailers choose to remove products from the shelf that are close to sell-by dates, which also leads to more waste. Most importantly, expiration dates are currently set very conservatively, so the amount of products wasted that are still good for consumption is tremendous; some estimates point to hundreds of millions of tones of products per year.  

In addition to the food waste caused by misleading expiration dates, food spoilage in supply chains is also a significant challenge, with major economic, environmental and health and safety impact. Important causes of food spoilage within the supply chain include: i. temperature variations, ii. excessive or low humidity, iii. chemical changes (oxidation), iv. microbial contamination.    

One way to fight food waste is to replace traditional, analogue expiry date labels with smart, e-paper-based labels, combined with smart sensors.

This new type of smart label can be used instead of expiration analogue labels, but it can also indicate additional data about the product. For example, by using smart sensors, labels can monitor whether a product should be consumed soon, allowing retailers to run sales campaigns, optimizing their costs and reducing waste. Smart labels can also alert retailers about products that have not been kept under the right conditions during shipping and transportation, allowing for identifying products that may pose a threat to consumers, before they reach the shelves.

Such thin and flexible smart label solutions can include tracking functionalities such as:  

  • Real-Time, Dynamic Indicators. The e-paper-based label is combined with integrated circuits (IC) and it is activated electronically at the point of production. It will then update, and store, in real-time, the freshness status of the product throughout the supply chain to the point of use by the consumer;  
  • Temperature and Humidity Indicators. The e-paper-based label is integrated with Time, Temperature sensors (TTI) to track the cumulative exposure of temperature sensitive products to temperature over time. This is especially important for products in cold-supply chain (for example meat, fish or vaccines). If the product is exposed to temperatures outside of the safe range, the smart label will monitor and visually indicate that occurrence, informing brands, retailers or consumers that the product might not be safe to be used/consumed. An example of this is the TempSafe Electrocard smart label that Ynvisible and Spotsee developed and released:https://www.ynvisible.com/news-inspiration/ynvisible-spotsee-announce-launch-of-new-temperature-indication-solution-tempsafe-electrocard;
  • Gas and Bacteria Indicators. Another way for detecting food spoilage is through chemical detection of gases or bacteria released by spoiled products (for example ammonia for meat). E-paper-based labels can be integrated with gas sensors to detect food spoilage in such products. An example of this is the collaboration between Ynvisible and Innoscentia: https://www.ynvisible.com/news-inspiration/ynvisible-and-innoscentia-are-fighting-food-waste-with-printed-intelligent-expiry-date-label

The number of smart label products and solutions is increasing and we expect to see many more companies and retailers investing in this type of monitoring solution in years to come.    

The transition won’t happen overnight, but the benefits are clear:  

  • Consumer Confidence: consumers can easily check the freshness status of the products, in real time, increasing their confidence in product quality and safety;  
  • Reduced Waste: real time freshness indicators can help to significantly reduce food waste, as the current “expiry date” system is highly inefficient. A higher degree of food consumed results in reduced food waste, thus increasing the efficiency of the food system overall;  
  • Regulatory Compliance: e-paper-based smart labels can store and display information needed for regulatory compliance (expiration date, storage conditions, etc). This is especially important for pharmaceuticals. Ynvisible is collaborating with Hive-Zox, a company developing and commercializing e-paper-based smart labels to monitor medical and pharma product shipments: https://www.ynvisible.com/news-inspiration/ynvisible-and-hive-zox-announce-innovative-smart-label-for-real-time-monitoring-of-pharma-products-in-supply-chains

  • Supply Chain Optimization: e-paper-based smart labels provide continuous freshness and safety monitoring of products throughout the supply chain and help with inventory management by identifying products that are nearing their shelf life.

In conclusion, combination of thin and flexible e-paper displays with sensors and electronics in the form of a label provides a powerful way to monitoring product freshness and preventing food waste.  

Ynvisible has been recently featured on an article related to this topic in The Independent. To learn more about our printed e-paper displays and how they can be integrated in smart label solutions, please contact us.

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