Assessing the impact of electronic freshness labels on consumer behavior to reduce food waste

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Bioengineering


The aim of this interdisciplinary project is to study the interaction of human subjects with novel electronic freshness labels in the context of reducing food waste.

The freshness of packaged foods is estimated by the "useby" date that appears on the packaging. This date, however, does not reflect the actual state of freshness of
the consumable, because it is dependent on, in addition to formulation and packaging, the storage and processing conditions. "Use-by" dates, which are approximations, lead to substantial food waste by consumers as they do not provide information concerning the actual freshness of the product in real-time.

The Guder Research Group Imperial College has recently developed a new sensor technology (Barandun et. al., ACS Sens. 2019) that can measure food freshness in real-time and could replace the "use-by" dates to prolong shelf-life, reduce food waste and eliminate foodborne illnesses caused by spoiled foods. The sensors are printed paperbased electronic labels, that are applied to the packaging containing the fresh product, and detect gases released due to microbial spoilage of food in real-time. The sensors can be interrogated using near-field communication (NFC) enabled smartphones wirelessly and do not require additional hardware. We do not, however, currently know how/whether the sensors would be used by consumers when available.

This project has two Work Packages (WPs): WP1 involves engineering development and WP2 involves deployment of the technology to community fridges run by the Hubbub Foundation to study consumer behaviour and potential impact on food waste. WP1: Currently the sensing technology developed is at its
early stages and requires extensive engineering development to create a complete system. For this, we will develop a mobile app, fabricate a quantitative wireless
sensor tag (currently the tags only provide on-off type freshness sensing but we would like to have a quantitative number that indicates freshness), apply hydrophobic
membranes to keep liquids away from the sensor surface and integrate into food packaging. WP2: The sensor tags developed will be applied to the food packages in the community fridges of the Hubbub Foundation. Hubbub will provide access to these facilities and allow us to study how consumers interact with these tags. We hope to understand whether the consumers choose to use the sensors for measuring freshness and how the freshness information impact their decisions.

The primary outcome of this project will be the understanding of how consumers interact with the sensors and effects of spoilage information on consumer behaviour.
A complete wireless NFC-enabled spoilage sensor tag, that can be integrated into food packaging, will also be produced.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2453729 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2024 Hong Seok Lee