With This Bio-Reactive Food Label, Sell-by Dates Could Become Obsolete

The innovative Bump Mark would allow consumers to determine a product’s freshness by touch.

(Photo: Courtesy Behance.net)

Sep 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Every milk carton, package of meat, and hunk of cheese comes with a sell-by date stamped on it. Most people take that date as gospel—one day past it, and it’s time to chuck that item in the trash. Such fidelity is partly responsible for our rampant food waste: Americans throw nearly half their food in the garbage, an astonishing $165 billion worth per year.

Despite what those sell-by stamps say, food is often edible for much longer. That’s where a new patent-pending bio-reactive food label from Solveiga Pakstatite, a student at Brunel University in the U.K., could help. Her innovative Bump Mark label is filled with a solid, set form of gelatin. When the label is smooth, the food is fresh. When you start to feel bumps, that’s a sure sign that eating what’s in the package could make you sick.

Pakstatite used gelatin because it’s a protein and will decay at the same rate as the protein-based foods, such as milk and meat, inside the package. Once the gelatin is liquefied and the bumps underneath the label can be felt, the consumer knows that the item is ready to be trashed.

In March the United Nations warned that the world must produce 60 percent more food by 2050 to avoid civil unrest. Using labels like the Bump Mark could reduce food waste by proving to individuals and grocery stores that food is still good and doesn’t need to be thrown away.

Food-waste activist Rob Greenfield even spent his summer biking across the United States only eating from Dumpsters to prove that tons of perfectly edible food are being chucked just because a sell-by date has passed or a box is a bit bent. All that saved food could be funneled to people who need it the most.

The Bump Mark project won the U.K. round of this year’s James Dyson Award, which “celebrates, encourages, and inspires the next generation of design engineers.” Pakstatite received about $3,200 to further prepare the product for the international stage of the competition. Given the interest from investors that she already has in the project, this is one food-saving prototype that could be coming to a grocery store soon.