Food Industry Needs a Smarter Label

How smart can a label be? According to some, a label can be pretty darn smart. There is a new technology that enables barcode labels to be affected by temperature. Once scanned, they can tell the scanner if there has been a change in temperature. For shipping food products, this is quite the innovation. These labels can be scanned by regular scanners or a smart phone such as an iPhone or Android. The message on the scanner could read as ‘good’ or ‘fresh’, if the product shipment has maintained the correct temperature. It could read as ‘do not sell’ if it has undergone high temperature changes that would make it not suitable for sale.

The technology works using a chemical reaction in the label. If the label experiences temperature changes that will affect the products, a chemical is released inside of the label and changes the barcode, itself. This is smart technology but it could be better.

This innovative technology is a good start but producer would be better served with a label that can retain data associated with not just temperature but time, as well. This new barcode label, that changes if the temperature of the product goes beyond what is acceptable, is a good starting point but if the label can maintain data of the times in which the temperature changed, the producer can be made aware of how their shipments might need to be altered. It would allow producers and suppliers to know where and when, in the supply chain, the product experienced these temperature changes. By knowing when these changes happened, improvements during shipment can be made. This would reduce the amount of products that are found to be spoilt during shipment, and unable to be sold.

Yes, this barcode label can be scanned throughout its supply chain and that makes it smart. It also makes it vulnerable to human error. What if it is not scanned properly at a location in the supply chain? The data is lost at that point. After all, the idea for this type of ‘smart’ barcode label came out as a solution to reduce tarnished goods from making it to market. It was also borne out of producers trying to lower the amount of spoiled goods and reducing costs by ensuring their products are shipped properly and are able to be sold, in the end. This technology is a great start and, hopefully, will be built upon and improved.