Smart packaging includes modern technology such as RFID chips that communicate with manufacturers, warehouses and retailers. The addition of wireless heating in containers has provided new opportunities for food marketers to sell modern conveniences. Smart technology is helping reduce waste, track products more closely and provide longer shelf live.
How Smart Packaging Reduces Waste
One of the main reasons that tons of food gets wasted around the planet every day is that food is perishable and spoils quickly. Bacteria and oxidation both cause food to expire. Blocking these environmental factors is the basis of food preservation.
Smart packaging was partly designed to extend the time frame that food can be consumed safely. Key materials that comprise smart packaging include special plastic, which protects against moisture, and clay, which reduces the effects of oxygen. The plastic used in smart packaging is exponentially more effective at blocking oxygen than normal plastic packaging. It's also cheaper than metallic film solutions.
The wireless technology used in smart packaging allows for tracking of the product every step of the way in the supply chain. So if the product comes up missing between the manufacturer and the warehouse, it can be tracked to determine the last location where it was seen and who signed for it. This type of monitoring has helped reduce theft and errors among suppliers. Microscopic chips can communicate information in real-time, which has helped improve and clarify inventory accounting.
Emerging low cost smart sensors that can be printed on paper are able to detect temperature, humidity and light. It can also alert sources when packaging has encountered tampering within its route from the manufacturer to the retailer. This wireless information can be tracked from any location around the world. It's helped make the global shipping process more transparent.
Monitoring Food Condition
Another dimension to smart sensors is that they can measure the condition of food enclosed within packaging. This information is transmitted to vendors within the supply chain so that they can weed out products that don't meet safety standards.
Traditional packaging is designed to create a barrier between the food and environmental factors that degrade quality such as heat, light, moisture, pressure, gas and microorganisms. When packing performs a role beyond providing this physical barrier, it's called "active packaging." It involves a system that either helps extend shelf life, improves food safety or enhances product qualities. Active packaging may include adding chemicals such as salt, sugar, CO2 or natural acids for preservation purposes.
Preservatives used in active packaging can be measured for chemical composition with smart sensors that communicate with suppliers. Oxygen levels, for example, can be measured in packages, which is important since oxygen facilitates the development of aerobic microbes. It also degrades food colour, flavour and nutritional value. Oxygen can be absorbed by "oxygen scavengers," which are various types of sachets or packets containing interactive substances such as iron powder placed in packing.
Carbon dioxide scavengers are commonly used to remove excess CO2 in coffee packaging, since coffee generates high levels of CO2 when hermetically sealed in packs after roasting. Presence of certain chemicals can be detected by electronic transducers, which convert chemicals into signals. Nano sensors made of silicon can be used to identify pathogens and contaminants in food.
RFID and Wireless Heating
The key to wireless communication with individual packages throughout the supply chain is radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Wireless sensors are able to collect and send data to a central monitoring location without human intervention. An RFID tag stores an ID number, which is associated with information that can be retrieved from a database. RFID tags can be passive (powered by the reader) or active (powered by an internal battery).
Electronic sensors can be used to report various facts about a package, such as whether or not it has a leak or has been exposed to UV light. There are also sensors that monitor the pH of food products. RFID technology is effective at identifying, categorising and managing the flow of goods.
Thanks to RFID tags, new food containers are emerging that include induction-heating. Packaging Digest reported in 2018 about the heating containers patented by Inductive Intelligence, which presented its devices at a recent IFT food technology trade show. Based on satisfying the consumer appetite for convenience, the metal foil pouch contains a tag that tells the device to heat the product, as metal facilitates the heating.
Intelligent food packaging encompasses both natural and technological solutions to ensure food preservation. It may involve chemicals placed in containers within containers to control characteristics of the inner packing atmosphere. It may also involve electronic technology that tracks data about product quality and location. Using smart packaging provides a competitive edge and gives a brand owner much more access to quality control data that can improve the product.