Bye-Bye "Use By" Dates, Hello Smart Sensors 📱 [GreenGut Weekly Find 9/25]

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Welcome to the Weekly Find, fellow nerds! We’re back to the subject of food waste 🍴 this fabulous Friday with a U.K.-based company that caught my eye.

BlakBear 🐻 is developing tech to replace the myriad “sell by,” “use by,” and “best by” labels that confound us all when we’re trying to decide whether the slightly unidentifiable thing that got shoved to the back of the fridge is still, in fact, edible.

When in Doubt, Throw it Out, Right? Wrong.

The problem with all these labels is that they mean almost nothing to the consumer. If something is best by a date, does that mean it’s at peak flavor then and isn’t worth eating afterwards? Is there some magical 🧙🏻‍♀️ spoilage switch that flips the instant a product passes the “use by” date?

It’s enough to drive you nuts — and most people don’t even bother letting it go that far. Instead, they just toss stuff in the trash 🚛 with a “better safe than sorry” attitude. That confusion is behind 9.5% to 12% of household food waste in the E.U. and is part of the reason why 21% of U.S. landfill space is stuffed with food that might actually be fine.

Image by Tomasz Brzozowski from Pixabay

“Does This Smell Funny to You?”

When food is really spoiled, you can literally trust your nose. As food ages, microbes go to work breaking it down and produce compounds like ammonia in the process. That’s what you smell when you open a container and get a whiff of pure nasty. 🤢

Of course, by that point, the food is a total loss. The team of physicists, chemists and engineers at BlakBear has come up with a sensor design that’s 100 times more sensitive than the human nose 👃🏻 — making it possible to detect ammonia at much lower levels and predict remaining shelf life with far more accuracy than a date printed on a package.

Real-Time Shelf Life Data, Delivered to Your Phone

How does it work? The sensor comes in the form of a paper-based label that can be applied to numerous types of food packaging. The paper absorbs ammonia, and two printed electrodes sense the resulting ions to determine how much time the food has left before it hits the point of no return.

BlakBear is starting with trials on meat 🥩 and fish 🐟 in the U.S. and U.K. but plans to branch out into other areas. In its current iteration, the tech allows food manufacturers, distributors and retailers to track food freshness across the supply chain. Using paper as a base helps keep label costs low, which is essential if BlakBear’s tech is to be adopted on a wider scale.

To get freshness data, you simply scan the label with your smartphone. The embedded RFID chip transfers the info to a cloud-based app, making it possible to monitor trends over time and make better distribution 🚚 and purchasing decisions to ensure peak freshness across the board.

Keeping a Fresher Fridge

Consumers can also take advantage of the information by looking for BlakBear labels on products at participating grocery outlets or keeping an eye out for the company’s upcoming 🍯 HoneyBox—a food storage container with a sensor built into the lid.

Sensors on products and containers are equipped to send smartphone reminders to use up food before it goes bad, an effort aimed at reducing food waste in the home. No more tossing stuff based on dubious “use by” dates or grossing your roommates out by asking them to smell something that may or may not be past its prime! 🥴

CEO Max Grell and co-founder/CTO Giandrin Barandun have plans to release other tech in the future to address problems in areas like soil health, air quality and water quality in addition to the food 🥘 supply chain.

I would love to see this tech 📱 expand across the global food supply chain. It would be great to be able to scan anything and know immediately that it’s not going to become a rotten mess two days later. Combined with efforts to increase local food 🌱availability, I can see this being a key part of getting food waste under control.

Would you whip out your phone at the store to check food freshness or give your leftovers a home in HoneyBoxes? Let me know your thoughts! 👇🏻👇🏻

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