Colour changing plastic makes ‘sell by’ dates unnecessary

Looking, sniffing and carefully tasting are good ways to indicate if food is still edible. However, anyone who has ever had food poisoning knows that this method isn’t infallible, as even if it tastes okay, food can be spoiled. The Brazilian company Braskem is trying to give consumers a helping hand, with colour changing plastic that indicates the state of conservation of various food products.

Annually, $218 billion worth of food is thrown away in the US alone. One of the main culprits of consumers throwing away food is the sell by date on the packaging that tells us until when food is edible. Unfortunately, this is only an indication and often food is perfectly edible even after the expiration date. Yet many people don’t dare to take the risk and throw the food away out of caution, especially if they have had food poisoning before.

Along with Clemson University in the USA and Rio Grande do Sul Federal University in Brazil, Braskem is developing a technology to let plastic change its colour when the quality of the food is diminishing. This material can help prevent food waste, as it alerts the consumer when the food is actually getting bad, instead of an estimation by the manufacturer.

Braskem, the largest producer of thermoplastic resins in the Americas, began developing the colour changing plastic in 2013 and had a prototype ready in 2015. They still need to do some testing to ensure that the technology accurately detects spoilage and does not produce false positives. However, the company aims to have containers with the technology on store shelves in 2 to 3 years. They are currently looking for partners.

Diagram via Washington Post