Tactile expiry labels could prevent food waste

Tactile expiry labels could prevent food waste

An innovative tech solution to the food waste crisis might be coming soon to a supermarket near you: Mimica Touch, a tactile label that accurately shows when food is no longer safe to eat, is going to be trialled by the UK arm of dairy giant Arla, which owns Cravendale, Anchor and Skyr.

The label (previously known as ‘Bump Mark’) is the first product developed by Mimica, and is described as a ‘biologically accurate food expiry indicator’ designed to turn from smooth to bumpy when the product is no longer safe to consume.

Designed to be easily added to pre-existing packaging, the label contains a gelatine by-product from the food industry. Each label is formulated specifically to its product using shelf life testing data, and the gelatine reacts to temperature changes over time in the same way that the packaged food does, giving a reflection of the molecular breakdown of the food.

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While plastic has dominated the public agenda for some time, the food waste crisis continues to percolate, with the latest report from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) showing that household food waste actually increased by 4.4 per cent from 2012 to 2015.

Much of the discussion around food waste has centred on improving collection and recycling. The government pledged in its 25 Year Environment Plan to work with WRAP in supporting more councils to introduce separate collections of food waste, though it avoided making this mandatory.

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However, as much as we need to improve our recycling of food waste, preventing food from being wasted in the first place is just as pressing: of the 7.3 million tonnes (Mt) of annual household food waste recorded in 2015, 4.4-4.7 Mt could have been prevented – that’s equivalent to each household throwing out £700 worth of food unnecessarily every year.

This is where technology like Mimica Touch comes in, raising awareness of unnecessary food waste by offering tangible evidence that food we might throw away is actually edible. The Food Standards Agency says food should no longer be consumed past its use-by date, and retailers are not legally allowed to sell food past this point, but producers may set these estimated dates earlier than necessary.

Read more: Co-op chain to fight food waste by ignoring ‘best before’ dates

WRAP has previously raised the issue of packaging labelling in the fight against food waste, with the organisation estimating in February 2017 that nearly £1 billion of food waste could be saved through changes to labelling, before seeking views on draft guidance for labelling in July. Meanwhile, global businesses have also called for the simplification of food labels in order to make progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030.

Mimica’s founder, Solveiga Pakštaitė, who won a James Dyson Award and a Shell Smarter Futures Award for the project, said: "We are really excited to be working so closely with a highly innovative organisation like Arla to bring accurate food spoilage information to consumers, to provide peace of mind and the confidence to use food for longer."

Arla and Mimica will be conducting consumer research to understand responses to the concept before decided whether to expand the trial into supermarkets. Tomas Pietrangeli, Managing Director of Arla Foods UK, commented: “We’re hoping that consumer research will suggest this should go to a wider trial. Mimica’s indicators are truly innovative and could not only help reduce food waste but also help those with visual impairments identify, through touch, when food is no longer safe to eat.” 

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