Smart Packaging

Imagine food wrapping that could indicate the presence of E. coli or salmonella. Or a swab that could signal when other pathogens are present.

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine featured this technological breakthrough in its “Year in Ideas” list. While no products are available yet, a consortium of Canadian universities and companies, Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network, will soon release many such products. When it does, hopefully we’ll see fewer deaths from E. coli or other harmful bacteria.

photo by nep (via flickr)What will this “bioactive” paper mean for food waste? On the one hand, the invention could prevent waste because consumers will know for sure that their ground beef, for example, has turned. Many Americans, having lost that all-important nose for rancidness, throw away any food item when they’re not sure it’s good. 

On the other hand, the hi-tech paper could cause more waste if it suggest throwing away anything with a hint of bacteria. To wit: 

A lot of work remains to be done to ensure that the detectors will be able to pick up traces of bad bacteria without reacting to benign ones…

It’ll be interesting to see what products actually use this technology. In five years will we wonder how anyone lived without butcher paper that indicated when meat has gone bad? Then again, it could bring us to a whole other “sell-by” and “use-by” date conundrum


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