Food Quality Sensor International (FQSI) has developed food labels that change color to signal the freshness of packaged meat.
The product, called freshQ, is a stick-on freshness sensor label that is applied by the meat packer, distributor, or grocer to the outside of fresh wrapped meat and poultry packages. The sensor can detect food-borne bacteriological levels right through the wrap.
"The freshQ label will remove the skepticism which more than 40 per cent of consumers have with the traditional 'consume by' code dating system," stated Marco Bonné, FQSI's president and chief executive officer.
A tangerine orange color on the inside of the "Q" on the label indicates that the product is fresh. When the bacteria count in the package builds to a critical level, the orange turns to gray to indicate spoilage.
The company, based in Lexington, Massachusetts, plans to introduce freshQ labels to the market in the first quarter of 2006. FQSI will be test marketing freshQ with Unified Western Grocers in Los Angeles, California.
The labels will be used with brands made by Premium Protein Products of Lincoln, Nebraska. The company produces TrackedRight, an organic and source-verified beef brand sold to domestic and overseas grocers.
The company is also working with Hobart Corp., supermarket chains, meat and poultry processors, and university food science laboratories to bring the product to market.
The labels are made of food grade materials and costs about one per cent of the total value of the average package of meat or poultry that it labels, the company claims.
"For the first time, packers, grocers, and consumers will have graphic evidence of the product's freshness at each step in the distribution system," Bonné stated. "The food industry can now extend its quality control programs directly into home refrigerators to let consumers know when it is no longer safe to eat these products."
About one in four Americans suffers from food poisoning every year, with 76 million cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control. Of these, 325,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 die.