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Paper-based biodegradable sensors could replace ‘use-by’ dates to cut food waste.

Biodegradable sensors, incorporated into packaging, could soon detect spoilage gases in meat and fish, according to researchers from Imperial College London.

“Our vision is to use PEGS in food packaging to reduce unnecessary food waste and the resulting plastic pollution.”

UK researchers have developed smartphone-linked, biodegradable spoilage sensors for meat and fish packaging.

In a statement, the researchers based at university Imperial College London said that the new sensors could help detect spoilage and reduce food waste for supermarkets and consumers.

These new laboratory prototype sensors cost two US cents each to make. Known as ‘paper-based electrical gas sensors’ (PEGS), they detect spoilage gases like ammonia and trimethylamine in meat and fish products.

The sensor data can be read by smartphones, so that people can hold their phone up to the packaging to see whether the food is safe to eat.

Dr Firat Güder’s team at Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering (@ImperialBioeng) made the sensors by printing carbon electrodes onto readily available cellulose paper.

According to the university, the materials are biodegradable and non-toxic. The sensors are combined with ‘near field communications (NFC) tags – a series of microchips that can be ready by nearby mobile devices.

During laboratory testing on packaged fish and chicken, PEGS picked up trace amounts of spoilage gases quickly and more accurately than existing sensors, at a fraction of their price, according to Imperial.

The researchers say the sensors could also eventually replace the ‘use-by’ date.


Güder said: “Although they’re designed o keep us safe, use-by dates can lead to edible food being thrown away. In fact, use-by dates are not completely reliable in terms of safety as people often get sick from foodborne diseases due to poor storage, even when an item is within its use-by.

“These sensors are cheap enough that we hope supermarkets could use them within three years. Our vision is to use PEGS in food packaging to reduce unnecessary food waste and the resulting plastic pollution.”

More and more bio-based materials are being used in niche applications. Earlier this year, Italian bioplastics specialist Bio-on announced plans to team up with design specialist Kartell to produce a bioplastic called Eloxel for the electronics sector.

Eloxel will be used to create a range of materials like printed solar cells or “computer screens that you can roll up and put in your pocket”.

If you were interested in this story, you may also be interested in reading the below ones.

Read: Bio-on launches new company to develop the use of bio-plastics in the electronics sector.

Take part: Bio Market Insights reader survey 2019.

Read: UK supermarket to serve up pasta with packaging made from food waste.

Read: How sustainable ingredients offer emerging opportunities from food waste.

Read: Italian companies Bio-on and Hera create joint venture to produce bio-plastic from CO2.

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