Fusebox EPFL

bio-engineered packaging: they'll tell you the real expiry date

Forget the date printed on the cardboard! Food storage varies according to storage conditions: maybe 1°C less in your fridge will bring 2 days more to your meat or your yoghurt!

Based on new bio-technologies, packaging could react chimically to food components, and tell you when it turns to be not suitable for human consumption anymore.

You'll have a instant idea of foods value wether its label is greenish or yellowish!

edited on Mar 7, 2014 by Nicolas Pierret

Keren Wang Mar 7, 2014

So I all know is there are those stickers on packages that ensures that the product has been kept cold all the way through deliver.

Food that spoil, as I am no expert, is bascially, when microorganisms have taken over the product right?
How could you test that? Maybe gases that are emitted from them? The sticker has to be in contact with the product right? (Thinking about losely packaged products such as salads...). But cool idea!

Nicolas Pierret Mar 7, 2014

I don't imagine this as a sticker. Instead of having a plastique packaging for your yoghurt, you have a bio-engineered (eco-friendly ;)) one, which is acting as a label. It's in contact with food (it's its purpose).

But maybe, as Andreas said, it's not all the packaging, but a part of it (the caps for example in yoghurt, milk, etc.).

For Vegies, it's different. I could not find a solution, but let's assume that fruit and vegetables are telling you themselves when you cannot eat them anymore :D!

Concerning what is spoiled food, I'm not an expert neither, but I reckon you're partially right! Microorganisms, new chemical components throgh decomposition, etc.

Hélène Gonnet Mar 15, 2014

For salads it could be also possible to know if the product is proper for consumption. 

In this article one one of my profesor has investigated spoilage bacteria and molds in salads.


View all replies (2)

Andreas Baumann Mar 7, 2014

Super idea to use a bioengineered packaging that can tell you the true expiration date of a food. As Keren indicated, maybe only part of the package material needs to react with the chemical components. Would your package material mainly measure temperature? Or are there more specific components that you would detect? You can also consider a package that has several parts detecting different components to have a more complete view.

Nicolas Pierret Mar 7, 2014

Yes, I agree. It makes more sense to use only a small part of it (if possible).

It should not be limited to temperature, but rather focuse on the internal composition of food (meat, fish, etc. Of course, not all of them are suitable for this (nutshell, eggs, etc.), but it does not mean that expiry date should disappear!

For showing different results, I'm not really sure! It should remain readable for consumer, too many information kills information! And the main idea is that it shows if it could be eaten or not!

Adriana Basbous Moukarzel Mar 7, 2014

A few years ago I came across a few articles about a similar concept, intelligent food packaging. Here's an example I found http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12128120 Maybe it could inspire you and give you more ideas ! Were you referring to something of the sort or is your idea different in some way ?


Ian Roberts Mar 8, 2014

This is a great idea. I think an hour with Francesco (Stellaci) would be very well invested for this idea.

ErikaM Mar 10, 2014

More sophisticated packaging, more plastic: can't be the solution!


Nicolas Pierret Mar 10, 2014

I do not agree. You probably imagine this packaging as an electronic device. Imagine it as a leaving cardboard: Its own component (cellulose, or whatever) react in contact with food, and change their properties, color in paritcular.

As biological packaging, they can be thrown away at least in cardboard, maybe even in bio-organic bins, or be used as resource for agriculture or other process.

Nicolás Meneses Mar 12, 2014

This is exactly the kind of ideas which would help solving food waste! It looks very easy for the consumer to decide: consume it if the packaging is yellow; don't consume it if its red).
I am very looking forward to reading some more ideas on what kind of packaging material we could use.

Nicolas Pierret Mar 14, 2014

If we be imaginative (and maybe not reallistic), it could for exemple replace aluminium cap on milk or yoghurt bottles, it could replace plastic film on top of meat and fish, or plastic packaging of cheese. To go further, we need a material engineer, which I'm not :)

Daniel Heine Mar 13, 2014


Nicolas Pierret Mar 14, 2014

that's it! Except that the technology here is not specific to the product packaged (http://insignia.mtcserver11.com/portfolio-vie...sh-indicators/). It's actually a timer, tellong you that you've opened this since 2days by ex.

So it's about improving this, making it specific for the product: which gaz is emitted, which concentration is it reaching when the product is no longer healthy to eat.

Leila Ojjeh Mar 13, 2014

Status changed to INTERESTING
Buhler experts really like this idea... Excellent, very simple. Could the community elaborate on which packaging materials could be used...?

Hélène Gonnet Mar 14, 2014

It is true that the food industry prefers to put short expiration date, in order to sell more food and to be sure that the consumer will not be contaminated.

This new packaging means additionnal costs, will the supermarkets be ready to use it, what are the benefits for them, and will the consumer be ready to pay more? I think that it should rather be used for food contamination that can lead to illness or death, because the additionnal cost would be justified. 

Would it be used additionally to the expiration date? If the marker is red before the expiration date, it is clear that the product will not be consumed. But in the opposite case, if the date is over and the marker is still green, what will the consumer trust more? Will he rely on the old method or trust the new one? I think that both methods should be combined, because this marker can maybe work for just one type of pathogenic bacteria coming for example from fish. So that the consumer knows that this marker is only for this type of contamination that is likely to occur, but for the other types of contamination which cannot be tested with a marker, he has to refer to the date.

Once the product is open, can the marker still work? Or will it interact with the air of the fridge?

An important point about food decay is the possibility to close hermetically the packaging after opening. 

Can it be used only with transparent packaging? Because how will the consumer see if the marker is orange in a tin if the marker is inside and the packaging opaque? Or maybe to facilite the detection, the marker could be used after opening the packaging. We put a sample of the supected rotten food and see if it reacts with the marker

Nicolás Meneses Mar 16, 2014

These are very good points to consider, Helene! There are  few intelligent packaging in the market today, but not highly spread due to higher costs involved - the end consumer is not ready to pay more for this. The solution should really be cost efficient and this is the main challenge today for making this idea feasible. But again, once developing this kind of packaging, your questions must be considered.


Leila Ojjeh May 5, 2014

Congratulations to Nicolas Pierret, Alexandra Schelbert and Hélène Gonnet for their great performance. Bühler’s Executive Board found the business case extremely convincing and with great potential. They particularly liked the efforts put by the team in exploring the technology aspect and gave it the “MOST PROMISING TECHNOLOGY” award with a 2500 CHF prize. Well done!