Reducing food waste with smart packaging sensors

Smart packaging allows to determine the quality of packaged food products in a very accurate, no-contact manner.

The development of smart food packaging systems is becoming an increasingly popular tool in the battle against food waste.

A fast emerging technology in this regard involves the use of terahertz (THz) electromagnetic waves. These waves show strong interaction with certain biomarker gasses that are produced during the process of food spoilage, enabling the detection of very small amounts of the gasses (ppb-level).

By coupling the system with a MEMS oscillator, the sensitivity of the system is increased even further, which makes it possible to detect food spoilage at a very early stage. Moreover, the sensing system can be integrated on silica-microchips embedded in the food packaging material. Since polymers (plastics) are transparent for THz-waves, the sensor can be read without having to damage or open the packaging material. This is impossible with other spectroscopic techniques like for instance infrared light.

This technology thus could allow to determine the quality of packaged food products in a very accurate, no-contact manner. This means that the spoilage level of any individual food product could be determined at any given time, or in other words that a “real-time” shelf-life determination can be established.

Thanks to this technology the consumer could simply read out whether or not the food stuff in their refrigerator is still suited for consumption, instead of throwing perfectly edible food away immediately after their “best before”-date.


Therefore, Ghent University, in collaboration with research groups from Université de Lille, Université du Littoral Côte d’Opale and VMicro, aims to develop such a commercial food sensor, based on this technology, during a 4 year long project called TERAFOOD funded by the European Union within the Interreg France-Wallonie-Vlaanderen framework.