The war on food waste and how 'smart' packaging can help win it

Intelligent and responsive packaging solution to reducing food waste

American consumers throw away about 80 billion pounds of food a year, however, only about half of them are aware that food waste is a problem, and many find some benefit in doing so, according to a new Ohio State study.

The researchers developed the national survey to identify Americans’ awareness and attitudes regarding food waste. In July 2015, it was administered to 500 people representative of the U.S. population.

The study found that 53% of respondents said they were aware that food waste is a problem. This is about 10% higher than a Johns Hopkins study published last year, which indicates awareness of the problem could be escalating.

“Generally, we found that people consider three things regarding food waste,” said Danyi Qi, a doctoral student and a co-author of the study. “They perceive there are practical benefits, such as a reduced risk of foodborne illness, but at the same time they feel guilty about wasting food. They also know that their behaviors and how they manage their household influence how much food they waste.”

Speaking at the upcoming PLASTEC Minneapolis event in September addressing this global epidemic is Claire Sand, Owner, Packaging Technology & Research, LLC; Adjunct Professor, Michigan State University.

In her presentation, Sand discusses the role of intelligent food packaging and the types of research required to combat food waste.

PlasticsToday caught up with Sand ahead of her presentation to give our readers a sneak peek of what to look forward to at PLASTEC Minneapolis .

Hear Sand discuss, “Breakthroughs in Intelligent and Responsive Packaging to Reduce Food Waste,” on Wednesday, September 21, at PLASTEC Minneapolis in Minneaplis, MN.

PT: What should the packaging say?

Sand: Ideally a package should focus on adding economic value from plastics companies through to consumers:

  1. Indicate the end of shelf-life to replace the sniff test consumers often conduct and avoid:
    • Throwing out food that is still safe to eat
    • Consumer’s eating food that is not safe and that can cause sickness.
  2. Be responsive and act to reduce spoilage
  3. Assist retailers with rotating stock and ensuring product freshness
  4. Assist with marketing food in terms of providing pairing options
  5. Assist with reordering. For example, empty packages can be scanned to build grocery lists
  6. Provide tangible information like directions for recycling

PT: What types of solutions are food, packaging and equipment producers developing that lead to more food being eaten?

Sand: We are focusing on reducing food waste. Thirty percent of food in the US and in many urban areas of developing countries is wasted in the hands of consumers. This food is also packaged and the packaging is then wasted as well. Items 2-5 above would increase food sales.

PT: What are some recent advances in responsive food packaging?

Sand: Responsive packaging is packaging that responds or acts. There are five main reactions that cause food to deteriorate—oxidation, moisture gain/loss, enzymatic browning, non-enzymatic browning, and microbial growth. 

Advances are centering around detecting these reactions using intelligent packaging and then acting to respond (or act) to reduce the reaction in a controlled manner. For example, we currently

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