Heising has a background in Food Technology and is in the last year of her PhD at the Food Quality and Design Group at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. She hopes to defend her thesis in April next year.
Fish is a complicated product for supermarkets because dependent on a 'catch' it can have different shelf lives and, based on factors such as water temperature, the sex of the fish and the type of food it has eaten, can influence the speed at which the meat decays.
Heising told FoodProductionDaily her research measures the freshness of packaged fish in three ways through its ammonium-electrode, pH-electrode and conductivity-electrode and the findings have been published in the Journal of Food Engineering.
“The main objective of my thesis is the development of a packaging concept that can monitor and predict food quality and/or safety within the supply chain,” said Heising.
“Intelligent packaging systems, based on internal or external sensors that are combined with mathematical models, will be evaluated on their abilities to predict the quality of the packed perishable foods under different conditions that can occur in the supply chain.
“When the quality is monitored from the moment of harvesting or catch until the moment of consuming by the final consumer, more efficient and practical complex management decisions (e.g. using Quality Controlled Logistics) can be taken as a result of which food wastage can be reduced.
“If a retailer in the supply chain knows which of the products have the shorter shelf life, he could sell these food products before the ones with the longer shelf life – a concept known as FEFO “First Expire, First Out”.
“With the shelf life data and FEFO strategy, management decisions can be taken by a food distributor to direct shipments to a specific store in the most profitable location.”
Smartphone chip information
She added the research should lead to a tiny chip being packed in with the product, which will indicate how long the product can be kept. For example, a small piece of gel containing a chip that can be read with RFID.
The study means supermarkets and retailers can judge the freshness of fish without opening the packaging and consumers can read chip information with their smartphones.
“An important requirement for monitoring a quality attribute with an intelligent packaging is the development of sensors that measure the quality attribute in a non-destructive method,” said Heising.
“This is why monitoring volatiles in the headspace of the package would be an excellent method for an intelligent packaging sensor.
Bad publicity and recalls
“For the food industry, intelligent packaging can help to provide a greater assurance of food quality, and it enables quick identification of problems, which helps to reduce the production and distribution of unsafe or poor quality products, which in turn reduces the potential for bad publicity, liability and recalls.
“Besides improving logistic actions, wholesalers, retailers and consumers can benefit from a dynamic pricing system where the price can be adjusted, based on the quality of foods.”
Heising said as part of her research she uses electronic signals with the help of mathematical models.
“The signal needs to be communicated to the consumer and we think a mobile phone might be an easy tool for this,” she said.
“The advantage of an electronic signal is it can easily be communicated throughout the whole supply chain. For example RFID offers possibilities for automatically reading individual packages and it can be transferred to databases on computers.”
The student is currently working on manuscripts about mathematical models that describe the relation between sensor data and food quality and safety status. These models will incorporate the effects of variable conditions that occur in a dynamic supply chain.