URI chemists set bar high for food safety

Source of Article:  http://media.www.ramcigar.com/media/storage/paper366/news/2009/02/19/News/Uri-Chemists.Set.Bar.High.For.Food.Safety-3637592.shtml

Noelle Myers

Issue date: 2/19/09 Section: News

02/19/09 - The University of Rhode Island chemistry department has paired up with SIRA technologies to create food safety barcodes that indicate when food has expired when being scanned at grocery stores.

SIRA technologies came up with the barcode idea and two members of the chemistry department discovered the effect pigments have on food safety labels.

"SIRA technologies had this idea, but couldn't make it work," William Euler, chairman of the chemistry department, said.

Euler and Brett Lucht, a URI chemistry professor, wanted to create barcodes containing a pigmentation that reveals whether a food product is too old to eat.

Currently, perishable foods sold in grocery stores only contain one barcode that reveals the name and price of the product. The new pigmentation labels will contain two barcodes.

The top label determines the food product while the bottom label suggests unsafe conditions. If the food's temperature decreases and goes bad, a red pigment will appear on the bottom label.

The red pigment will prevent the scanner from reading the top label. This will cause an error message to appear, indicating the item is no longer purchasable.

Lucht said they have made a solution using a mix of pigmentation and ink to make these barcodes printable. The pigments involve an activation process, but Lucht said it is too complicated to reveal.

He said the company's main target is the refrigerator market, particularly dairy and meat aisles.

The chemistry department is currently working to adjust freezer temperatures that will eventually reveal if meat has been thawed correctly.

Lucht said the barcodes have been tested in military grocery stores, and there are some barcodes ready to be marketed by SIRA Technologies.

Euler said the barcodes are currently being developed, but are not being used. They should be on the market in a year, he added.

URI began developing and experimenting with a similar label about 12 years ago. The initial pigmentation barcodes were called inversable pigmentation labels.

Rather than revealing if a food was too old to eat, it indicated when a food was warm enough to eat. Items such as frozen dinners and hot coffee were used in experiments.

URI has been working on the current pigmentation food safety labels for the past 8 years and undergraduate students are helping Lucht and Euler produce them.




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