Innovation in food packaging and 'use-by date' labels being tested at the University of Chester.

Posted on 30th August 2016

A company developing a revolutionary food freshness solution is being supported in its Research and Development (R&D) work by the Institute of Food Science and Innovation at the University of Chester.

The innovative Bump Mark label will help people with visual impairments to check the freshness of their food.
The innovative Bump Mark label will help people with visual impairments to check the freshness of their food.

Bump Mark is a bio-responsive tactile expiry label, which has been designed and invented by industrial designer Solveiga Pakštaitė of Design By Sol, a food-tech start-up company, based in London. The idea originally came about as a way for people with visual impairments to check the freshness of their food. It is expected to cut food waste dramatically, allowing consumers to confirm by touch - rather than reading - the expiry date and determining whether their food has gone off.

Patent pending, it also won the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon prize last year and more recently the Hawley Award for sustainable engineering.

Gelatine has been used for the first version of the product, to help determine when meat products go off. Because gelatine is a natural food product, which is high in protein, it decays at the same rate as other protein foods. The gelatine is set over a bumpy plastic sheet, with an additional layer of plastic on top, acting as a smart label on food packaging. 

Because gelatine is solid when it’s set, the label is smooth to the touch when food is fresh. As the gelatine decays, it turns to liquid thus revealing the bumps underneath which is indicative of the food expiring. In other words, Bump Mark mimics the biochemical processes that are going on inside the food package.

The team at Design By Sol is now working hard to complete the R&D to bring this innovation to our supermarkets, which is where the Institute of Food Science and Innovation at the University of Chester has been able to help.

With the Hydrocolloids Research Centre, based within the Institute, offering its expertise on gelling agents (gelatine is a hydrocolloid), the London-based company narrowed down its national search for food labs and scientific help to the University of Chester.

With the combined advantages of the facilities at the NoWFOOD Centre and the academic expertise of scientists within the Institute, Design By Sol has employed two Master’s students from Italy as interns to carry out its product development work under the supervision of Design By Sol’s R&D Lead Mandy Zammit. Using the University’s multi-disciplinary environment, including microbiology and hydrocolloid laboratories, Martina Poletti from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and Giorgia Raci from Turin University, have been tracking the temperature changes of gelatine during storage and assessing how the technology will work in the mass market.

The development of the product is being supported by the Climate-KIC and Central Research Laboratory start-up accelerator programmes.

Professor Saphwan Al-Assaf, Professor of Hydrocolloids and Analytical Chemistry, and Director of the Hydrocolloids Research Centre at the University of Chester has been supporting the project. His expertise in the field is internationally recognised, as he serves as a technical adviser to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the field of hydrocolloid chemistry and is currently representing the UK on a Coordinated Research Programme dealing with food packaging, together with 15 other member states.

He said: “Bump Mark is an exceptionally exciting product, which has the potential to revolutionise the food labelling world. For the University of Chester to be involved at its early R&D stage is a real coup for us and we are proud that Design By Sol recognised the exceptional levels of scientific equipment and expertise we have here.”