Labels With a Memory for Freshness Seek to Test Their Mettle 

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06.10.2008

Tags: Fish, Poultry, Supply Chain, Chilled Food, Frozen Food, Quality, Freshness

On its journey from the manufacturer to the consumer, an industrially produced fresh product, such as fish or poultry, passes through many hands. A gap in the cold chain can occur quickly and unintentionally. But how can customers recognise whether a product has lacked a couple of minus degrees for a while? With so-called TTIs (time temperature indicators), freshness labels on the surface of the product which change colour when there is a rise in temperature, is the unanimous reply of the FRESHLABEL project consortium. Led by ttz Bremerhaven, 21 partners from seven European countries are investigating the functionality of these consumer-friendly labels. The conclusion drawn at the Final Meeting in Bremerhaven was clear: the label works reliably, what is missing is pioneers in the trade sector willing to start practical tests.

Bremerhaven, October 2008. To enjoy a product, it must be safe. Whilst manufacturers, the trade and logistic partners along the supply chain are indeed working on improving transparency in the sense of EU directive 178/2002 in order to safeguard both image and product, the consumer has to date only profited indirectly from this development. Whether a product has passed through an unbroken cold chain or not continues to be a matter of trust for the supermarket customer. In the European FRESHLABEL project, the partners have developed a label which offers quality-conscious consumers a safeguard at first sight.

Following activation by UV light, the label turns dark blue and then becomes lighter and lighter over the course of time and if there is a fluctuation in temperature. If the prescribed storage temperature is exceeded, the lightening process accelerates. What lies behind this is a chemical process on the basis of organic crystals: If the ambient temperature rises, this becomes visible through a change in colour on the label. An integrated UV filter protects against manipulation, as once activation has taken place the labels cannot be returned to their original state.

The Smart Label's "memory" never fails.

Manufacturers from the fish and meat sectors were amongst those involved in the development of the FRESHLABEL. They are expecting tangible advantages from the introduction of a comprehensive control system which includes Smart Labels and hoping for a noticeable increase in turnover through the verifiable quality of their goods. Traders and consumers would no longer have to orientate themselves just to the best-before date but could instead base their assessment of a product on its actual freshness. In this way, no good-quality food would be squandered and a greater degree of sustainability achieved. The price of the label of less than 10 cents a piece would be amortised in the shortest space of time if meat consumption continues to increase, as has been observed in Europe over recent years.

Also in the partner consortium were representatives of European industrial associations. Their contacts to small and medium-sized enterprises helped to accelerate the transfer of the know-how to manufacturers. Dr. Yee Hilz, Project Manager at ttz Bremerhaven, concludes that the manufacturers are convinced of the benefits of a freshness seal for the end consumer, above all for products with a large market volume, such as smoked salmon and minced meat which are on sale in all supermarket chains. It remains to be seen whether the trade also conceives the intelligent labels as progress or whether more transparency in the transport chain can only be realised through legislation and/or increased pressure from consumer associations. Of the countries represented in the FRESHLABEL project, Portugal is currently closest to the target of implementation: A trade chain there is the first to give the green light for practical tests.

The FRESHLABEL project was supported within the EU's 6th Framework Programme with a total funding volume of some 1.7 million Euro.

 


Pressebilder zur redaktionellen Nutzung (foto: ttz/pr)

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Picture caption:

The temperature-sensitive label is attached to the fish or meat packaging where it can be seen clearly and allows consumers an immediate quality check.

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ttz Bremerhaven regards itself as an innovative provider of research services and operates in the field of application-oriented research and development. Under the umbrella of ttz Bremerhaven, an international team of proven experts are working in the areas of food technology and bioprocess engineering, analytical science as well as water, energy and land use management, health systems, and administration and software.