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Printable Smart Labels Tell You When the Milk's Gone Bad

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the if-it's-skim-it's-bad-from-the-get-go dept.

Science 68

chicksdaddy writes "Security Ledger brings news that the Norwegian firm, ThinFilm has successfully tested a printable electronics component that it claims is the first, fully-functional 'smart' label. The company claims its disposable Smart Sensor Label can track the temperature of perishable goods and is a 'complete closed system built from printed and organic electronics.' Smart Sensor is being marketed to pharmaceutical makers as a way to keep temperature-sensitive drugs and to food wholesalers, which can track the temperature their product is kept at throughout the supply chain. When 'critical temperature thresholds are reached, the Smart Sensor label will change to indicate that using an integrated display driver. Such labels could make it possible to easily monitor the condition of large quantities of product, keeping it safe and effective and preventing perfectly usable products from being destroyed. But the possible applications of printable electronics are huge: they can be produced for a fraction of the cost of comparable technologies because they don't need to be assembled. And, because they're flexible and paper-like, they can be deployed pretty much anywhere you can stick a label — something ThinFilm's CEO says could provide an extensible platform for the much-ballyhooed 'Internet of Things.'"

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68 comments

SO... (3, Insightful)

xyourfacekillerx (939258) | about 9 months ago | (#45159193)

For 2,000 years the human nose (standard equipment on most humans) was not the correct way to detect foul and spoiled milk? We were drinking bad milk the whole time, or what? My bad milk detector? No production cost, and zero use cost.

Re:SO... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159237)

What were people using before that?

Re:SO... (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | about 9 months ago | (#45159703)

What were people using before that?

They were too busy figuring out which mushrooms and berries were deadly poison to worry about spoiled milk.

Lothar: Hey, the milk smells funny again, what's left to eat?
Gunthar: All that's left are these berries that Motan gathered last week.
Lothar: Didn't Motan just die the other day?
Gunthar: Yup, spewing from both ends.
Lothar: ... *Holds nose* *Chugs spoiled milk*

*Later*
Lotar: Well, that spoiled milk was so spoiled it turned into... something interesting. Let's call it Yogurt!

Re:SO... (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 9 months ago | (#45160243)

I don't know, but I think that was when they invented this joke:
"My great-granddad has no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"Awful"

Re:SO... (2)

SeaFox (739806) | about 9 months ago | (#45159257)

But you can't patent the human nose (only possibly sections of the genetic sequence that create it).

At least this is a temperature sensor it appears, and does not detect spoiled milk that is simply too old.
I'd feel bad if we've degenerated to a point where people need to use a color-coded label because they couldn't read expiration dates.

Re:SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159399)

The expiration dates aren't all that reliable. For starters, once the milk has been opened, it will spoil faster. Second, other factors come into play, temperature being a big one. The settings you have on your fridge determine how long it will last.

Re:SO... (1)

vux984 (928602) | about 9 months ago | (#45160011)

The settings you have on your fridge determine how long it will last.

Funny, in my house, its whether the kids have friends over or not that determines how ong it will last. I buy milk 12-16 liters at a time and it never comes within a mile of going bad.

Re:SO... (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 9 months ago | (#45162475)

But you can't patent the human nose (only possibly sections of the genetic sequence that create it).

At least this is a temperature sensor it appears, and does not detect spoiled milk that is simply too old.
I'd feel bad if we've degenerated to a point where people need to use a color-coded label because they couldn't read expiration dates.

Whoever tries to patent gene sequences ain't worth the whoopie that gave them theirs... Now, us old folks might have a bit of trouble reading expiration dates sometimes I don't want to make it all the way back to the bedside just to put my teeth back in. And another thing: I refuse the "too old" labeling! My memories not what it used to be, but I've got know-how -- Experience. I've been degenerating longer than most of those labelers have been degenerates trying to push their newfangled "solutions" and re-invent us out of the job market! COBOL is still Relevant! GCC supports Fortran! You Perl scripting whipper snappers put a CGI front end on it, but somebody's got to maintain those banking system back ends.

... Now, Where in the Sam Hill is my damn lawn?!

Re: SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45164525)

Correct. It has nothing to do with whether milk's gone bad, and everything to do with being able to tell whether it's been stored at a temperature that's not quite cold enough. Even though the milk may be fine if you drank it right away, after it's been kept at the wrong temperature the shelf life would be dramatically lower.

Re:SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45165275)

I'd feel bad if we've degenerated to a point where people need to use a color-coded label because they couldn't read expiration dates.

Your smarter-than-thou attitude is pretty awful considering you don't even know that's a sell by date, not an expiration date.

Re:SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159365)

This is useful.
If the label can keep track of how long it was in certain temperature ranges it can tell you how long until the product goes bad.

Re:SO... (5, Funny)

bob_super (3391281) | about 9 months ago | (#45159389)

My supermarket will stick new ones on the label as needed.

They already do that for meat...

Re:SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45160513)

They might do that if they had used some label with a chemical that irreversibly changes color or something when exposed to the wrong temperature. But by using printable electronics, the grocery store might not even have to go that far and instead just reflash or reset the electronics.

Re:SO... (1)

denmarkw00t (892627) | about 9 months ago | (#45161079)

Mine does too, but it's a lower price on the sticker. I'll take my chances for $3 off!

Re:SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45162707)

What chance??? Unless it's ground meat, the meat's inside is sterile assuming that cow was healthy. Also, aged beef tastes way better. I only by it when it's a bit brown.

Re:SO... (2)

mythosaz (572040) | about 9 months ago | (#45159387)

Which would be hand for AFTER you bought it, took it home and opened it....

Re:SO... (2)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 9 months ago | (#45159465)

This invention will not detect bad milk. It does not detect bacterial overgrowth, nor pH changes, nor the breakdown of proteins.

"Warn When The Milkâ(TM)s Gone Bad" is hyperbole and disingenuous as a title, except that it does say "warn" instead of "actually detect and tell you for sure".

Re:SO... (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 9 months ago | (#45160595)

No production cost

Well, you gotta factor in the cost of paying for meals, transportation, gifts, entertainment and so on. And don't forget about failed ventures -- many investments turn bad and take time to recoup. If you finally make a successful investment, there's the possible expense of a wedding ring and cermony, then after a 9-month waiting period, there are 18 years spent developing it into self-sufficient state ... that's a pretty big production cost if you ask me!

Re: spoiled milk (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45160927)

Is it skim or 1% milk? Is it within 14 days of the expiration date? (in other words, every store-brand milk, ever)
Don't bother opening it; just throw it away. I'm 99.44% sure that it's already spoiled, and it will smell and taste funny if you open it.

These days I only buy half-gallons of 1% "ultra pasteurized" milk. The stuff is amazing; it supposedly has a room temperature shelf life of around a month! I stock up on mine with expiration dates 4-6 weeks out, and it always tastes fresh when you open it even if you keep it in the fridge for a few weeks before opening it.

Caution: It bacteria gets in when you open it, so it will go bad in less than a week after you open it, even if you store it 40F / 4C. Be prepared to drink the whole thing in a couple of days; that's why I only buy half gallons.

Re:SO... (1)

radarskiy (2874255) | about 9 months ago | (#45161047)

Good for you, but I can't necessarily tell the difference by smelling. I have to drink it, by which time I've drank bad milk. I think to would be helpful if I could avoid that situation.

Re:SO... (1)

denmarkw00t (892627) | about 9 months ago | (#45161069)

Because when you have 2,000 gallons of milk in separate little cartons, your nose gets tired. And you've just opened 2,000 gallons of what will presumably end up as someone else's milk...with a safety seal, ensuring no one else has sniffed it.

Re: SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45161963)

The staff at the grocery store typically has an undesired reaction when I try opening and sniffing the milk before buying.

Re:SO... (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 9 months ago | (#45162449)

For 2,000 years the human nose (standard equipment on most humans) was not the correct way to detect foul and spoiled milk?

Most humans, yes. My nose is bad enough at detecting spoiled milk that the first thing I notice is the milk turning solid when I warm it, so I welcome this development.

100 years not 2000 (1)

trout007 (975317) | about 9 months ago | (#45163021)

Milk doesn't go "bad" if it was collected and handled in a native way. The natural microbiology in it would start consuming the sugars and turn it "sour" in a tasty way.

Only with modern mechanical pasteurized and homogenized milk do you have this problem.
The milk is completely sterilized so is open to any microbiology taking over.

I AM ANOSMIC (1)

ryzvonusef (1151717) | about 9 months ago | (#45163347)

You insensitive clod!

----

No really, I am anosmic, (complete inability to smell)

I would love things like these.

Maybe a portable detector signalling foul odours, coz if you baked me a cake literally full of shit, I wouldn't know.

Re:SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45164005)

I don't know about you, but I personally hate the smell of sour milk. These labels will keep you from having to smell it.

For (more than) 2000 years we went outside in the snow to shit in the outhouse. Why would we want indoor plumbing? For (more than) 2000 years we wrote with ink pens, why should we want computers?

For (more than) 2000 years we had geezers saying "I did without (electricity/indoor plumbing/cell phones/computers) all my life and I don't need it now. You sound like one of them. This would indeed be useful.

Re:SO... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 9 months ago | (#45165737)

For 2,000 years the human nose (standard equipment on most humans) was not the correct way to detect foul and spoiled milk? We were drinking bad milk the whole time, or what? My bad milk detector? No production cost, and zero use cost.

Well, the purpose of this label is not to detect sour milk, but to detect when conditions may lead to premature souring of the milk. Like say the reefer unit conks out midway through the Midwest. If caught early, the load might be salvageable. But if not, then the entire load must be scrapped (at the transporter's expense, of course). And of course, sometimes a partial salvage is possible.

The problem is, you may not be able to tell until it's far too late that it's spoiled (i.e., it's on store shelves and goes sour a few days before the date on the label). But by then it's far too late to know the reason why, and nevermind a bunch of customers buying milk and discovering it's sour when they get home.

That's what these labels do - they monitor environmental conditions and tell you if it was exceeded at any time. This is especially true in medicine as you cannot always tell if a medication is still viable. A lot of medications often require storage below freezing, and I'm sure you'll appreciate knowing if it was mistreated before being administered to you.

In the end they're no fancier than the shock labels they stick on goods to see if they've been dropped and such.

Re:SO... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45166025)

That system has a nonzero cost -- the cost of buying spoiled milk. With a detector, the store can remove the product before it gets sold. My beef with this is that it's based on temperature rather than actually detecting spoilage by e.g. detecting mold or something. It will only generate false positives and negatives. Too inaccurate.

Prior art (1)

crossmr (957846) | about 9 months ago | (#45159291)

The 80s called, they want their mood ring back..

Re:Prior art (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159421)

Mood rings were the 70's, kid. You should limit your pop-culture references to eras with which you're familiar.

Re:Prior art (1)

dead_user (1989356) | about 9 months ago | (#45159619)

Right. The 90's was hypercolor T-shirts. Awesome.

Re:Prior art (3, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | about 9 months ago | (#45160507)

70s not the 80s.
Along with the Pet Rock.

Not an entirely new concept, seen since 1980s. (2)

themushroom (197365) | about 9 months ago | (#45159303)

There have been products that have liquid crystal foil labels that change color or have a rising bar to show temperature, similar to aquariums that have a stick-on temperature strip in a corner. I believe that beer with a can that tells you when it's Rocky Mountain cold uses that sort of technology but I don't know for sure.

Re:Not an entirely new concept, seen since 1980s. (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 9 months ago | (#45159577)

the difference is these latch on, so if the milk gets too warm then cools off again it still warns you. still a lot more expensive than a mk. 1 nose for now, but the labor costs of opening and smelling all the milk will be rather high

Re:Not an entirely new concept, seen since 1980s. (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 9 months ago | (#45162033)

but the labor costs of opening and smelling all the milk will be rather high

This is something a politician should do. Is it possible to make a label that warns you when a politician goes bad?

Re: Not an entirely new concept, seen since 1980s. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45164569)

Is it possible to make a label that warns you when a politician goes bad?

Hold a glass near their mouth and check for condensation.

Re:Not an entirely new concept, seen since 1980s. (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 9 months ago | (#45176455)

a sticker with the word bad printed on it? apply to every politician and call it a day

Re:Not an entirely new concept, seen since 1980s. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45162737)

The difference doesn't really matter. Small Helicopters and probably the large one's use latching temperature labels to indicate if a component has started to run hot and needs replacing. The only problem with them is that moisture can get inside and give false readings. But they just print strips with multiple indicators to get around this problem.

Am guessing that the innovation is the price point is not negligible even for a low profit commodity like milk.

Could be abused (1)

MrLogic17 (233498) | about 9 months ago | (#45159341)

Sounds like a good idea, but you're competing against a plain old "best before x/x/x" text.
I fear that these smart labels could be too sensitive, and give a false report I expired food. Thus telling me I need to throw away perfectly good food and buy more.

There's very little incentive to NOT make them too sensitive.

Re:Could be abused (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159447)

Those "best before x/x/x" text labels are abusable in exactly the same way, you know.

Re:Could be abused (3, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | about 9 months ago | (#45159659)

Nope. When the date is the 1st of October, I know it's already "bad" before I get it home. with a proprietary closed-source label, it could trigger off other factors to warn as soon as I get it home, so I buy it first, then throw it out to buy another.

The only use of these is for internal verification in the supply chain that storage parameters haven't been breached.

It's the same reason you should thump and break all shock sensors on receipt of sensitive equipment. You need to verify that the sensor works. If it doesn't break at listed load, then you don't know if the load received that shock and it didn't break.

Re:Could be abused (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45163243)

+1. People need to check for false negatives, and not just assume a true negative.

Re:Could be abused (1)

similar_name (1164087) | about 9 months ago | (#45160205)

A Harvard Study [reuters.com] suggests Americans throw away billions of pounds of good food per year because they believe the best before date indicates when food goes bad.

Will it work on my wife? (3, Funny)

Trip6 (1184883) | about 9 months ago | (#45159349)

Like a mood ring?

Re:Will it work on my wife? (4, Funny)

AK Marc (707885) | about 9 months ago | (#45159665)

I'm sorry. Your wife has already spoiled. I recommend replacement with a fresher product.

Re:Will it work on my wife? (1)

denmarkw00t (892627) | about 9 months ago | (#45161109)

Hey! I love my wife! *Hugs gallon of milk form 1982*

Data logger (1)

nickybio (1458399) | about 9 months ago | (#45159371)

This would be more useful if it provided a log, rather than just high/low readings.

Mmmmmmmmmm no. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159427)

If you need a sensor to tell you not to drink bad milk.... Well. darwin has a spot for you. it's a good thing.

Meh. Already exists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159439)

temperature sensitive stickers have been in use for decades for transportation of food. This is nothing new.

Re:Meh. Already exists (1)

GumphMaster (772693) | about 9 months ago | (#45160929)

And vaccines: Vaccine vial monitor [wikipedia.org] . There are also logging devices to go with larger collections of vaccines to record their temperature exposure (e.g. to isolate weaknesses in the cold chain). If these disposable tags record a history I guess they might replace the larger logging devices.

Don't need it (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159445)

Why? I've got a nose and eyes. However what they need to get rid of are jugs of milk. Make it either bags of milk or keep it in cartons. Jugs just grow weird crusty milk stuff around the edges, it's not a smart design. However, if the US used bags of milk, they better sweeten their milk because it tastes awful refrigerated unless sealed. Then again, American milk generally tastes bad. The innovation needs to happen in the delivery of milk, not a notice when it may have expired. I don't think anyone really cares if it expired or not, worst case scenario you might have the runs for 5-minutes and you move on with your day.

Fuck you, you sleazy meatbags (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159561)

1 Down 3 To Go :
chapman shot him dead
plugged him in the head
no more slopehead wife to fuck
no more squito bites to suck

lennon's dead hip hip hooray
all his dues he know must pay
george, paul, ringo any day
will be dead we all must pray

a paunched out hippie fart he was
a pot smoking scumbag
bespeckled old scuz
his panface gookin' fuck so me stud
insurance cash all covered in blood

one year later
they paid their respects
prayed for his soul
then went went home & had sex
hipocrytes all of them
the worst kind of drugged out phlegm

Troll this bitch forum to the ground!

I sin for a living.

Good for Pharmacology/Clinicians (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159749)

I can see how this could be very very useful in pharmacology, or for clinical trials, or for clinicians storing drugs that either require rigourous temperature controls or otherwise spoil under certain conditions or length of time. It will be a useful tool to their existing arsenal of temperature monitoring etc.

But for Milk or any other food product, seriously? How stupid do people have to be they need a label to tell them their lumpy milk has gone off or their fizzy coleslaw is past its best or the mouldy yogurt has been open too long? Maybe it's for the same group of people who live by "Best Before dates" and are incapable of independent thought or common sense rationale.

The consequences of eating gone off dairy produce is at best and unpleasant taste of that sour milk, at it's realistic worse it's a mild tummy upset if you eat that whole tub of fizzy coleslaw. Do we really need a label to tell stupid people not to drink the sour milk?

My sensor (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159775)

I find if the label says "Skim Milk" its already bad.

The only thing worse than lying is skim milk. Skim milk is water lying about being milk. -- Ron Swanson

Old Hat in the Pharma industry (1)

kenh (9056) | about 9 months ago | (#45159791)

The Pharma industry has been using specially treated temerature indicators in their packaging to note exceptional/out-of-range temperatures for pharmaceuticals in transit, llike these tempstrips:

These are single change strips that monitor surface temperature and show a permanent record of the highest temperature. When your item has reached the temperature monitored it will turn black. The strips are oil, water and steam resistant.

Source [tempstrips.com]

The milk examle use is silly - the risk of milk spoiling is low, but the technology could have other, more useful applications, esp. if they could integrate it with an RFID tag to sense spoiled product without visually inspecting each container.

Re:Old Hat in the Pharma industry (1)

denmarkw00t (892627) | about 9 months ago | (#45161127)

But the milk example isn't silly. Ok, from the farm/factory, you send x gallons of milk on a truck somewhere else. You do many, many loads of this all the time, and gas costs a lot. Sure, finding out that a few gallons every load has gone bad even before it got on the truck is trivial, as it will be found somewhere in the chain, but you've just saved:

    1) some fraction of shipping costs
    2) saved the supermarket money in refunded milk
    3) saved the customer the experience of rancid milk

Not at all silly if the cost is truly negligible vs what you save above.

Be a smart shopper (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159835)

Pick the refridgerated items last before checkout. The date on the milk container is a 'sell by' date. Choose wisely. Look towards the back of the shelf for the latest 'sell by' date. Choosing from the back of the shelf—particularly in the case of milk—means that your milk won't have acquired the Light Activated Taste [google.com] because it was sitting next to the flourescent shelf lighting. Supermarkets always stock the freshest items at the back of the shelf—watch the bread man stock his product.

Organic electronics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45159855)

I, for one, welcome our new organic electronics overlords.

Forget Milk... What about Beer? (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 9 months ago | (#45159885)

What is desperately needed is a sticker to let you know if your beer has ever been permitted to sit on a loading dock too long, god forbid it might sit in the sun. Forget milk, we need to use this technology to win the war on skunky beer.

no thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45160375)

I wish that more of the money goes to the farmer and less to the package please.

cost effectiveness (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 9 months ago | (#45160453)

how is this less expensive than just placing a single thermometer on each shelf? seriously, it's a interesting tech but making temperature labels is solving a non-problem.

i think they would be better off changing to using their tech in applications where sensors can be put on people's skin like temporary tattoos to replace bulky systems. a heartrate monitor would be good place to start. though this could be very useful for tracking both location and status of hospital patients or the residents of homes for the elderly, especially those with dementia or alzheimer's.

Re:cost effectiveness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45160693)

i know its hard to actually read past the heading but please try to. Its not about sitting in the shop or at home. the milk example is so they know that the milk has been kept at 4 deg C or less. throughout the supply chain process.

Forged labels will make milk last longer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45160987)

Retailers already take liberties with their labeling. So how will such labels make things any better? In fact they will make expiry dates less discernable, and more unreliable. But that might suit retailers better, so there is probably millions to be made with such a product.

Why complain? (1)

Robert Slade (2869683) | about 9 months ago | (#45162091)

You'll get cheese after a week.

Use your nose (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45162187)

Sorry, that was way too obvious.
Also short temperature bursts are no problem for any good milk.

I fail to see the benefit for mankind.

TTIs (heh) (2)

Sneftel (15416) | about 9 months ago | (#45163193)

There are already time-temperature indicators [wikipedia.org] , which are low-cost, (usually) non-electronic devices affixed to perishable products to check whether they've remained in the appropriate range, and how long they were out of that range. Those are what this new tech is competing with, not the temperature-sensitive LCD strips you see on aquariums.

Cow's milk is for baby cows (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45164021)

Period.

Food Price Increase (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | about 9 months ago | (#45165901)

One more way to increase the price of food with no actual improvement. This also means more money goes to middlemen rather than to the farmer.

Alternative, use your nose and good sense - Not available everywhere.

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