Intelligent packaging is one of the latest developments in the food sector. New innovations in food packaging are crucial in maintaining the safety and hygiene of food products and monitoring microbial growth and gas concentration. Devices such as Time – temperature indicators (TTIs) are useful in tracking the food quality, the physical changes in food and calculating the loss of shelf life. Additionally, development of Sensors, Indicators and RFID systems (Radiofrequency Identification systems) are important for detection of unsafe food products and for the determination of toxins in packaged food. Packaged food items have a limited shelf-life after which it degrades easily. The objectives of intelligent packaging include the extension of shelf life and tracking of food items.

Image 1Sensors are devices that can be used to detect the desired substance within the food system. Sensors are basically made up of two components – A receptor and transducer. In the case of biosensors, the receptors recognize the target analyte and they convert these biochemical signals into measurable electric signals, with the help of transducers. For instance, in detection of food toxins, antibodies (based receptor) are printed on a material which produces a signal on (transducer), which indicates pathogenic attack. Gas Sensors are based on the principle of luminescence upon gaseous analyte contact. Paper-based electrical gas sensors detect spoilage gases like ammonia and trimethylamine in meat and fish products. The sensors can be combined with near field communication tags that can be read by nearby mobile devices. They can reduce food waste as well and are efficient than colour changing sensors.

Carbon nanotubes can be used to detect food waste and ripening of fruits and vegetables. Time-temperature indicators signify the sudden change in temperature with respect to time. TTIs developed can be photochromic, Polymer-based, Microbial, Diffusion-based or enzymatic. Gas indicators are used to monitor the quality of food materials within the packaging system (changes in gas composition). Freshness indicators are used for checking microbial growth and accumulation of toxic compounds in the product. Barcodes and RFIDs are data carrier devices that are useful in record keeping, require electricity source or they contain a microchip and a reader that sends radio signals and the tag, in reply to the sent signals usually needed for freshness of vegetables. Holograms are used to prevent counterfeiting of a product and to develop competitiveness of a product or its label. Similarly, developments are required for thermochromic inks that change their colour on exposure to temperature.

Expected outcome

Outcomes of development of intelligent packaging techniques include detection of toxins in food products, determination of freshness of the food product, checking the growth of micro-organisms, detecting gas composition, monitoring the freshness of the product, determining of different maturity levels of the fresh produce, tracking the temperature of food products and humidity data along with location of the food product during supply chain and storage. Development of Time-temperature indicators can lead to identification of change in product colour, chemical reactions, diffusion of coloured materials and pH dependent colour changes. Food products are highly perishable. Therefore, introduction of a sensor can ease the process of assessment of food products during their shelf life and also to obtain fresh products. In order to be able to control counterfeiting as well as to maintain the market appeal, special designs and closures are required to stop forging of food labels. Electronic noses (E-noses)/Tongues or sensory devices are used for recognizing volatile and odorous compounds. They possess cross-reactive sensing arrays, which on exposure of odour, generate a patterned response. Continuous detection systems are also used in contamination. Changes in barcode or pattern can signify contamination and prevent further loss of food components. Intelligent packaging from an economic perspective is required for prevention of food spoilage and waste. It helps in storage and supply of food during periods of natural calamities and in adverse temperature conditions. Frequent cases of food poisoning as well as presence of heavy elements and unwanted compounds can be removed using sensors in food systems.

Research Methodology

The methods include the following:
• Acquiring of the components to form the system.
• Generalizing process as well as surveys to know about the outcome of the process.
• Designing of the experiment, gathering existing data, evaluation and justification of methods for utilizing the formed sensor.
• Acquiring of food components on which the formed chip can be utilized.
• Acquiring of electrical items like wires.
Parameters to be analyzed include Humidity, Temperature, Moisture of the product, Gas composition.
• Results would have to be recorded and analyzed.
• Cost would have to be finalized and marketability would have to be checked.
• Initially, a purchase requisition would be created and a Purchase order (PO) would be sent.
• Subsequently, the supplier would approve the purchase order.
• The buyer records the purchase order.
• Subsequently, the budgeting is done and financial audits having substantial demonstration is required to be performed.
• Fulfilment of information, automation, marketing or function checking,
• Extension of project for additional production conditions.
Finally the sensor or technology that is created must be made available on a commercial platform at a reasonable cost for ease of utilization as well as to solve problems related to food storage and spoilage in addition to facilitating faster sensory evaluation of food.

Technical novelty and utility

Automatic, wearable-based food sensors as well as wireless sensor development is a new field in the development of food sensors. These are utilized for dietary assessment and for detecting microbial contamination in large quantity which is to be developed. Microchip in packaging is responsible for monitoring food quality and to inform about the growth of microorganisms. AI and Machine-learning platform analyzes data on food products that can be displayed easily. Development of allergen strip enables the detection of allergens in food. Tracing of digestion process with the help of sensors can be used to measure hydrogen levels after consuming certain foods. Technical utilization includes detection of specific food-borne pathogens, endotoxins, mycotoxins, species specific review on trends in antibody sensors, pesticides in food items, nanomaterials, conducting polymers and molecular imprinted polymers. Although, enzyme-based sensors dominate the market, wireless sensors are cheaper, easy to access, reduce chemical waste and can be used in food tracking.

Image 2Possible patentability of the research outcome

Patentability of the research outcome is possible, since food packaging is a widely researched field. Food sensors that are produced are portable and can be used frequently. They do not require large amount of chemicals for analysis. Wireless sensors that can be operated through cellphone and Wi-fi technology are novel-developments in this field. Intelligent food safety detection systems as well as sensors for food spoilage and freshness are new developments in the food sector. Novel technologies for developing food sensors are important in the context that they are required for longevity of shelf-life and for detecting spoilage and preventing food poisoning in areas where food is distributed. Monitoring sensory analysis, whether it be monitoring of taste, smell or chewing is done with the help of an electronic device. Testing allergen in food with the help of sensors can be another breakthrough that could occur in the food sector. Thermionic inks are a new breakthrough in holographic technology for food packaging. Indicators that are wearable as well as attachable are new sources of innovation happening in food packaging. Further, nanosensors can also be put to use in food systems as well as human systems to track food components.

About the Author:                                                                              Pooja Jha
AICTE NDF PhD (Tech) Scholar, Food Biotechnology,
Department Of Food Engineering and Technology,
Institute Of Chemical Technology
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An up-&-coming bloody creative professional passionately involved with both print and digital media; constantly trying to be an irritating perfectionist and surviving solely on inspiration (sometimes from the most inert objects)… Currently, staying busily engaged with producing mouth-watering content for the much anticipated and less explored Indian Food Processing Sector; interested to cover anything about the food and beverages business, whose works are unconventional, yet sustainable for the planet onto my list of forthcoming works...

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