Combining time frame and temperature: Reduce waste with shelf-life indicator for food
Norwegian food retailers discard over 50,000 tonnes of food annually - much of it of perfectly good quality. New technology from Norway could substantially reduce this wastefulness.
Conventional marking of expiry dates is the problem. Temperature-sensitive food products are marked with a use-by date to indicate how long the item will retain its quality. But the quality of food products is determined by more than just time frame - temperature is also a critical factor.
Food producers at present have little control over the temperatures their goods are exposed to throughout the value chain, so they mark their products with a short shelf life just to be on the safe side. This practice sends a great many perfectly fine products to the rubbish bin.
Figures from Statistics Norway show that Norwegian grocery shops, households, restaurants and institutions throw out food worth over NOK 10 billion every year.
"When we consider that a billion people around the world are starving, this is a massive waste of resources we cannot allow ourselves to continue," asserts Christian Salbu Aasland. He is head of TimeTemp AS, a technology company with roots at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) in Ås, Norway.
Through innovative research, TimeTemp has developed a new method of more precisely measuring the freshness of food items: a shelf-life indicator attached directly to the product. In addition to time, the company's device also factors in the temperatures to which the item has been exposed.
"Our indicator gives a running countdown of a food item's remaining shelf life based on time elapsed and its temperature environment, all the way from the production line to the consumer's refrigerator shelf at home."
Temperature control from production to home kitchen
The method is based on a patented chemical technology and could replace conventional marking of expiry dates - as well as enable the consumer to see whether any given product on a retailer's shelf has been kept at suitable temperatures from the time it was produced. The indicator will even help consumers to store items properly at home.
A prototype of the technology now exists, and TimeTemp hopes to bring its shelf-life indicator to market in the course of 2011.
In 2008, TimeTemp AS was awarded funding under the Research Council of Norway's Food Programme: Norwegian Food from Sea and Land to develop an industrial prototype of its shelf-life indicator. Concluding in 2010, the project is being carried out in cooperation with grocery chain conglomerate NorgesGruppen, baked goods supplier Lantmännen Unibake, and McDonald's Norway.