One thing I’m usually pretty good at is keeping up with what is in my refrigerator. Our trash pickup is at dark-thirty Monday morning, so Sunday night typically finds me going through the various containers and either packaging for freezing or tossing the more questionable items. Sometimes there’s a surprise, though, and if you’ve ever opened a container of leftovers you made more than a week ago you’re familiar. Or, even worse, sometimes food that shouldn’t be bad for some reason is: I once opened a carton of sour cream about ten days before its date to find it covered with mold. Things happen, and not all of them are pleasant…especially if you have a weak stomach.

Wouldn’t it be neat if you could know before you opened your containers and released the unbelievably horrible odors that what was inside was bad? Clear containers could help, but most of us use some form of coloured plastic containers. A team of researchers in China has developed a simple little gadget which can do exactly that: the smart tags change colours based on how fresh the food inside remains. They measure how much time has passed along with the temperature at which they have been stored to determine whether you can still eat the food or if you should run, not walk, to the nearest garbage can with it.

These appear to be designed for different types of food, so you would use a different tag to determine the freshness of your milk than you would to decide if that leftover spaghetti should serve as dinner for a third time. The catch is, they don’t actually have anything to do with the food inside; instead, they estimate whether food should still be good based on common expiration dates. All of which means you could still be unpleasantly surprised, but it does reduce your odds considerably. The tags were tested on milk, and change from orange (fresh milk) all the way to an alarming neon green (don’t breathe while you dump it out), but can be tweaked with other colours for longer-lasting foods. They also change colours faster when exposed to higher temperatures than those at which food should be stored.

These smart tags aren’t quite on the market yet, but since they only cost about 1/50th of one cent each to produce, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them soon. They’re also looking at ways these could keep track of the viability of medicines, which makes them an even more useful thing to have. Each tag is about the size of a kernel of corn, and are made of a gummy material that allows them to stick to just about anything.


Share This With The World!