Given that German scientists have already developed packaging film that kills food-inhabiting bacteria, it only makes sense that Scottish scientists should be developing the next step in the process – food packaging that changes color when the food is going bad. The “intelligent plastic” film, which is being created at Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde, is intended to take the guesswork out of whether or not the food packaged within it is still safe to eat.

The new plastic is intended to be used in conjunction with modified atmosphere packaging, an existing process in which the shelf life of food is lengthened by replacing the air inside its packaging with a protective gas mixture – often, most or all of the oxygen is drawn out and replaced with nitrogen or carbon dioxide.

Such packaging typically includes inserted labels that indicate freshness. The Strathclyde team see their plastic as being a less expensive alternative to those labels, as it could simply be integrated into the production of the packaging, instead of having to be made and inserted separately.

While the researchers are keeping zip-locked about just how their plastic would know when food was going off, they have stated that it would react not only to food that has been left too long, but also to food that has become tainted due to damaged packaging or lack of refrigeration.

“We hope that this will reduce the risk of people eating food which is no longer fit for consumption and help prevent unnecessary waste of food,” said project leader Prof. Andrew Mills. “We also hope it will have a direct and positive impact on the meat and seafood industries.”