’Smelling’ labels


Gone are the days when people used to take the printed word as gospel truth. In this digital era there are various ways to believe in information apart from the printed word. Still, there is one area where the printed word assumes the status of gospel truth and that is labels on food and allied products.

In fact, labelling on food products has assumed importance now as health conscious Indian consumers have started checking ‘manufacturing and expiry/best before date’ before placing the box into their trollies in super markets. Eighty per cent consumers check these dates, according to a survey conducted in two cities by Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition.

But, in area of food labelling words would no longer be important in the near future. Colours would replace words. Engineers at the University of Alberta are developing interactive polymer-based smart expiration labels that can detect and indicate presence of nasty food pathogens. The labels change colour if harmful bacteria are present in the container.

A consumer would not have to smell the contents of a packet to test the quality. A label will ‘smell’ and tell the consumer through colour. The technology is at an initial stage. But it has immense possibilities to develop further. If a label can detect bacteria, it can also be made to detect ingredients and their proportion and if every ingredient is given a colour then a coloured graphical label would tell consumers all the ingredients. This may also solve the problem of fine print.

Such labels are useful in India where food adulteration is an underground business. Milk adulteration is an apt example. Of the 52 milk samples tested in Amritsar recently, only 17 were found unadulterated and fit for consumption. The 35 samples had water from 5 to 50 per cent. This speaks on the seriousness of the issue. Despite efforts from the authorities, several cases of milk adulteration are detected regularly.

In a highly corrupt system, not human beings but technology can prevent malpractices and bring relief to the people. Inno- vations, not in products alone, but also in packaging, logistic, supply chain etc, are needed. That will ensure quality till the food lands on the dish.

The issue of quality in nutraceuticals, food and allied sectors has become important and sensitive. It is directly connected with health and more so with safety. Nutraceuti- cal is one area where the industry feels India has an edge over China. Though China produces 10 times more than India, on quality India is ahead. World is backing off from buying food supplements and nutraceuticals from China due to pollution and quality.

Innovation in interactive labelling will help Indian industry to convince the world of its quality. It is for the Indian industry to take innovation ahead to ensure that only the best can be taken from farm to folk. Anything less than that, even by one per cent, can be detected and stopped from reaching the consumer.

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