Unlike confusing and often unreliable best before and expiry dates, the label lets consumers feel with a finger exactly how fresh an item of food is.
If the bioreactive label is smooth, then the food is fresh. But if there is a bump, then the advice is to throw the food away.
The Bump Mark label is the brainchild of Solveiga Pakstaite, a 23-year-old industrial design and technology graduate of Brunel University, and it was today announced as winner of the UK round of the prestigious James Dyson award.
She came up with the idea after working on design innovations to improve life for blind people.
Her research highlighted wider problems about the shocking extent of avoidable food waste. A recent UN food report estimates that 100m tonnes of food is wasted every year globally, with British households throwing away 7m tonnes. In value terms, the average UK family throws away food worth £700 each year. Studies suggest more than half the jettisoned food could have been eaten.
Best before and sell-by dates have been strongly criticised for being inaccurate – leading to perfectly fresh food being binned. In fact, these labels are often used for retailers’ quality control, while the key information for consumers, for food safety reasons, is the use-by date.
Pakstaite’s solution, using food labels filled with gelatine, is also cheap to use.
At first the gelatine is solid, so bumps under the label cannot be felt. As the gelatine decays, it becomes a liquid. When this happens, the bumps can be felt, letting shoppers know the food item is no longer safe to eat. The Bump Mark could be applied to meat, dairy, fish and fruit juices.
The prize means Pakstaite will receive funding to help her develop her prototype and test it in lab conditions.
She said: “I wanted to create a label that would change its texture over time to model the decay process of food and drink. Gelatine is a protein, so it decays at the same rate as protein-based foods like pork, milk and cheese.
“And the gelatine can be adapted to match the expiry period of the food by altering the concentration. The higher the concentration, the longer the gel will stay solid.
“The label simply copies what the food in the package is doing, so the expiry information is going to be far more accurate than a printed date.”
So far she has designed 20 prototypes, each of which has been tested for user perception and technical performance.
The Bump Mark will now progress to the international stage of the award as Pakstaite works on commercialising it. She is liaising with retailers and technology developers and applying for a patent.