Public Release: 

Better best before dates

Sensing technology -- reducing food wastage

National Physical Laboratory

Advances in sensing technology will help to reduce the wastage from 'farm to fork' that's contributing to the UK's £10 billion food wastage bill, according to the UK's Sensors & Instrumentation Knowledge Transfer Network. Sensors can detect early indicators of food spoilage before visual signs are apparent, identify toxins and monitor water and nutrient concentration within the soil to improve irrigation efficiency.

"The government's Food Matters document highlights that the production and disposal of food not only costs billions but contributes significantly to the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. New developments in sensing technology are helping to improve the efficiency of everyday processes, reduce costs and benefit the environment," said Phil Cooper, Director of the Sensors & Instrumentation Knowledge Transfer Network.

"One example is a University of Manchester project which is developing a low-cost sensing device to help slash the UK's food wastage bill," said Cooper.

The University's Syngenta Sensors University Innovation Centre (UIC) aims to develop affordable sensors which monitor critical factors throughout the food supply chain. This will allow the setting of more scientific and meaningful best before dates. The project is supported by global plant science company Syngenta.

"By creating more meaningful best before dates, we can help to reduce food wastage. Currently best before dates are set by manufacturers and are based on worst case assumptions about the condition of our food between harvest and consumption. Most food is perfectly ok to eat days after its displayed best before date," said Bruce Grieve, UIC Director.

The UIC project brings together scientists from the fields of chemistry, engineering and physics. "By integrating our collaborative knowledge with the data we collect, we can better understand the whole supply chain of fresh food and start to reduce wastage," said Grieve.

The new printed sensors are based on radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and will be modified to have battery-free data storage. Pulses of energy from transmitters will provide enough power to transmit data. This should minimise the size and costs of each sensor from £5-£25 to less than 5p.

The UIC sensing technology will be licensed and ready for production in 2009. UIC is searching for fruit and vegetable import companies and food processors to become part of the project to help verify the concept in a real supply chain. Expressions of interest should be directed to the Sensors Knowledge Transfer Network


Notes to editors

The UK's yearly £3bn sensing market supports an instrumentation market worth £7.74bn, and an end user market of £120bn.

The Sensors & Instrumentation Knowledge Transfer Network covers the whole of the UK's sensing community, from the principles of measurement and novel sensor technologies to instrumentation, deployment and data analysis.

It has over 1,700 academic and industrial members. It is primarily funded by the Technology Strategy Board and research councils.

The Sensors & Instrumentation KTN has secured over £16m funding for its members.

It runs an active programme of technical workshops and has a team of technology translators provided by managing partners, the National Physical Laboratory and Qi3.

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