Active packaging: smart or what?

The idea of intelligent packaging has been floating around for some time but now it looks as if it is finally about to become a commercial reality. The drinks industry has been using packaging technology which prolongs the shelf life of its products for some time now. The technology simply means that oxygen-scavenging molecules are removed from the bottle and replaced with carbon dioxide.

Now, it is the turn of the food industry to take advantage of the technology, with meat topped products such as pizzas worthy of particular mention. "Before, there were restrictions on exporting certain products as they would spoil, but that's a thing of the past," says Dunn.

Neither is the technology restricted to removing oxygen. The reverse process - releasing oxygen into packaging - actually improves storage through the release of antimicrobials, antioxidants, and flavourings.

Meanwhile, the search for new packaging solutions continues to unearth new ideas. Ciba recently announced a new time/temperature indicator (TTI) while researchers at Cranfield University have developed a system to detect deterioration in meat products (see page 25)

Ciba Specialty Chemicals' TTI system was developed to enhance food safety. Although its take-up by the meat industry remains to be seen, the system is useful for showing the accumulated chill-chain history of perishables. "Too high temperatures during storage and transport are the most common causes of spoilage of chilled food and beverages," says Hermann Angerer, global head of Ciba Specialty Chemicals' Coatings Effects Segment.

TTIs allow producers, retailers and consumers to see, at a glance, whether perishable goods have been correctly stored and supplied, providing a visual summary of a product's accumulated chill-chain history and recording the effects of temperature over time. TTIs also help to optimise shelf life as suppliers and retailers no longer have to discard products prematurely to cover for potential spoilage.

The technology relies on pigments that change colour over time if temperatures fluctuate. The label or display has a reference and OnVU TTI. Once activated, the TTI becomes dark and then grows progressively lighter over time if the ambient temperature rises.

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