Improving Expiration Dates

Many in the supermarket industry look forward to the days when all items have RFID tags. These tiny transmitters would essentially eliminate the need for check out registers, dramatically cutting stores’ labor costs.RFID image courtesy of SMARTCODE corporation via Wikipedia

A new kind of RFID tag that University of Manchester (UK) researchers are developing could help reduce waste. The tags would be able to sense whether items have been refrigerated properly, and adjust expiration dates accordingly.

This provides some real hope for trimming supermarket food waste, because:

Currently, best-before dates set by manufacturers are based on worst-case assumptions about the condition of our food between harvest and consumption. Most food is perfectly okay to eat days after its displayed best-before date.’

Implementing RFID tags in food packaging is a question of when, not if. Their adoption will occur when they’re cheap enough, which could be some time.

Yet for expiration date purposes, you’d only need one RFID tag per palette or box of food, not for each unit of sale. In that case, hopefully this kind of RFID tagging (and not the Big Brother version) will catch on quickly. Then, “use by” dates will be much more accurate and less food will be wasted at stores and in homes.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted September 25, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    That’s cool. I’m all for avoiding check out line at the grocery and knowing if things are actually still good, although we commonly go over the “expiration” date. But do you have to look up the date online then?

  2. Jonathan
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    That’s a great question–how would we know about the date. I’m guessing that when each shipment came in, it’d be “read” by a scanner connected to a printer that would somehow print the expiration date on each item. But I’m not sure. Maybe that’s what the researchers are working on now, because I doubt people would bother to check online. Would you?

  3. Emily
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Or maybe our ‘fridges would know and would tell us when something was going to expire? My great hope for the future is a refrigerator that will read the rfids and know what I have and what I need to get at the store.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Jonathan Bloom at the Wasted Food blog is something of an expert in the fine distinctions between moldy and inedible. While there is hope that manufacturers could move to using a sensor that reflects food’s actual status rather than a static date, he points to this article from Culinate for tips about what to put in your mouth without putting your life in your hands. 1. “Sell by” versus “use by.” The former term is intended for vendors, to let them know how long to display items on store shelves. The latter term is for consumers. 2. Date labels are conservative. 6. Donations bonus. Expiration dates are a boon for food donations, as they create a steady supply of edible but not sellable food. If the dates didn’t exist, stores might keep items on the shelves until they actually started going bad. [...]

  2. [...] Jonathan Bloom at the Wasted Food blog is something of an expert in the fine distinctions between moldy and inedible. While there is hope that manufacturers could move to using a sensor that reflects food’s actual status rather than a static date, he points to this article from Culinate for tips about what to put in your mouth without putting your life in your hands. 1. “Sell by” versus “use by.” The former term is intended for vendors, to let them know how long to display items on store shelves. The latter term is for consumers. 2. Date labels are conservative. 6. Donations bonus. Expiration dates are a boon for food donations, as they create a steady supply of edible but not sellable food. If the dates didn’t exist, stores might keep items on the shelves until they actually started going bad. [...]

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