Food packaging is about to be revolutionised by the introduction of new bar code technology, according to a report from BBC News.
The University of Cambridge, UK, has just opened a centre dedicated to researching smart labelling systems that can hold much more information than the current humble barcode.
The centre is working on AutoID systems, using tags fitted with radio links that can transmit data instantaneously.
If widely used, the tags could help large food and beverage companies speed up production lines and fine tune their supply chains.
Barcodes have proved enormously useful to almost every business since they were first invented more than 25 years ago.
However the big problem with barcodes is that they have to be scanned with a reader to find out the information they contain.
By contrast smart tags that can be interrogated by radio can be read from a distance vastly speeding up the process of checking for almost anything.
Currently any warehouse wanting to check deliveries has to unload lorries and go through pallets of supplies one-by-one.
If all the boxes, cases and pallets were fitted with radio tags, the whole truck could be checked in a few moments as each box would report its contents automatically.
The technology magazine, Computing, speculates that the radio tags could remove the need to have check-out desks at supermarkets, could see the arrival of ice cream that tells your fridge the temperature is too high or jars that warn you when they are out of date.
The AutoID centre at Cambridge, and its partner institution at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is refining the tag system and the language it would use to swap information with reading devices or household appliances.
The work of the centre is sponsored by Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Tesco and Wal-Mart.
Currently the price of the system is considered to be too low but the researchers believe that economies of scale will bring costs down to a feasible level.