The label you touch to know if your food’s gone bad – and the woman pioneering it – FFA

Supermarkets are dropping best before dates on some products, encouraging people to judge an item’s freshness for themselves. What about those dates that are important but not always accurate? Solveiga Pakštaitė has a solution, and it feels good

Solveiga Pakštaitė never set out to tackle the world’s food waste problem. She actually came up with the idea for a tactile indicator of food spoilage while working on a project for people with visual impairments. 

“There was a lot of sitting on trains and buses because the study was about how to make public transport more accessible. It allowed me to get really curious and ask participants how they do many of their everyday tasks. They weren’t able to use expiry dates, which led them to rely more on tinned, heavily processed food.”

Not everyone was initially enthused about Pakštaitė’s idea, which became her final year project for the industrial design and technology degree she was doing at London’s Brunel University. The concept, called Mimica Touch, is a temperature-sensitive label that changes texture when food spoils. Many of Pakštaitė’s university professors told her the idea was more food science than product design. She began to believe that the invention had potential after a packaging designer told her to patent it. 

“That was the first spark that made me see this had a life outside of it being a university project.” So, she entered that year’s James Dyson award, which celebrates designers of new problem-solving ideas – “just to get feedback, and I thought it would look good on my CV.

“To my utter surprise, I got a call two weeks into my new internship telling me I’d won. It was all over news, I was featured in the Evening Standard on a double page spread. My surname was one of the answers in The Times crossword … and food companies and retailers started getting in touch to ask: ‘when can we try this? When can we test this?’ My initial reaction was: ‘what are you talking about?’ I made these gels in my university hall’s kitchens … there was a lot more work to do.” 

Mimica Touch uses a plant-based gel to make a label or bottle cover. The label is then layered over hard plastic bumps. The gel is calibrated to decompose at the same rate as the product inside, turning to liquid when it’s no longer fit for consumption, which is when users can feel the plastic bumps underneath.

Pakštaitė’s tactile label is more accurate than expiry dates. Image: R/GA

Testing has shown the system can add anything from two days to a week to a product’s life. It’s thought that up to 60 percent of all food that is not consumed in the UK goes to waste is still safe to eat, and adding just two days onto ‘use by’ dates could Reduce the amount of wasted money by half.

It’s a problem that urgently Needs to be addressed: globally, oneThird of all foodEvery year, food is wasted for human consumption. If food waste were a country, it’d be the third largest greenhouse gas emitterChina and the US are responsible for 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world, followed by the US and China. That’s not just because of the energy involved in its production, transportation and storage, but also the methane that’s emitted as food decomposes. 

The government of the United Kingdom is It has committed to halving the amount of food waste by 2030, and updating the expiry date system used on food – originally introduced in the 1970s – is seen as a helpful step. According to Wrap, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, Wrap, removing dates from fresh fruit and vegetables could help. Save 7m Baskets of Food from the Bin


Pakštaitė’s illustrated likeness in the book Awesome Entrepreneurs. Image: Thaiz Zafalon for Rebel Girls

And Supermarkets pay attention: Asda, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Tesco, Morrisons, and Marks & Spencer have all announced they’re removing ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates from hundreds of products. Waitrose will follow this trend. These dates assume the worst-case scenario in terms storage conditions once the product leaves the manufacturer. 

As well as the James Dyson award, Pakštaitė’s invention has secured her a slew of accolades. She was shortlisted in the Green Alley AwardThe, which recognizes European circular startups, is an active alumna. Next year, she will be part of a panel discussion with former winners. She was also named MIT Technology Review named inventor of the Year, and the Mimica Touch itself Several winsat the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Recently, Pakštaitė’s story was included in the book Awesome Entrepreneurs(Part of the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls) 

The fact this came from a university project and we’ve got a waiting list of customers in the food industry makes me incredibly proud. 

“It’s been nice to get some external validation after such a long research and development effort,” she says. “The fact this came from a university project and we’ve got a waiting list of customers in the food industry makes me incredibly proud.” 

Funding was the biggest obstacle in getting the concept from an idea into a cap production run. It is now happening next month. “We had to get our technology working in the lab, then ‘productise’ it, ensuring the chemistry is accurate every time,” she says. Innovate UK, the Seafood Innovation Fund and the European Union have all contributed to Mimica’s projects so far, which have focused on creating labels for red meat and dairy, juice and smoothies, and seafood. The 13-strong team also researched a new label to store and monitor Covid-19 vaccines in developing nations. They see potential for the technology being adapted to any perishable item.

The Green Alley Award – applications open!
Submit your entry to be crowned the most innovative European startup tackling waste – apply by 21 November 2022
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As an entrepreneur, Pakštaitė says she hadn’t anticipated the potential impact she could have. “I have an amazing opportunity to define how we want to do business … I can be whatever leader I want to be and build whatever company culture we want. We offered everyone unlimited time off and free therapy. I want Mimica to be a really nice place to work.” She’s also on the board of Fast Forward 2030A network of entrepreneurs who support models of enterprise that contributes to sustainable development. 

“It’s up to us as entrepreneurs who are coming in and challenging [established] ideas to build impact into what we’re doing,” she adds. “So when we scale and become much larger companies, we’re actually delivering on combating climate change.”

Main image: Ben Broomfield 


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