Scientists have developed a laser device that could ensure food stays fresh for longer.
The product allows the gas composition of airtight packs to be checked in a non-invasive way, measuring the amount of oxygen present.
Invented by researchers at Lund University in Sweden, the device is currently available only on a bespoke basis. It is being prepared for more commercial production by Swedish company Gasporox in partnership with Norwegian company Norsk Elektro Optikk.
Scientists behind the technology, which was originally conceived as a way of diagnosing sinusitis, say the laser will be able to analyse many more food packs than other quality control systems. It is also expected to play a big role in reducing food waste.
Conventionally, spot checks are performed on individual samples, with the risk that damaged products slip through the net.
Märta Lewander, doctor of atomic physics at Lund University, developed the laser technique in her thesis and now works as chief technical officer for Gasporox.
“We hope that, in the long term, this type of equipment could also help to stop people throwing so much food away, because they would know that it is packaged as it should be,” she said.
As well as being useful to food packaging plants, Gasporox believes that shops could also use the lasers to check the shelf-life of their goods.
Maria Göth, chief executive of Gasporox, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We only recently started commercialising the technology and so far we’ve had great interest from the food and packaging and pharmaceutical industries.”
She said that Gasporox itself was currently dealing with orders on an individual basis and, ultimately, a network of distributors would be established.
So far there has not been any interest from the UK.
“At this stage we have sold custom made instruments, so do not have a fixed price list as we will do when we start producing volumes,” Göth added.
“The aim is absolutely that also smaller companies shall be able to afford the investment. As the technology is non-intrusive, the waste can be kept to a minimum and the instrument is thus cost saving compared to intrusive technologies.”
The company believes it can retain exclusivity on the laser technology. “Gasporox is the holder of the patents, and although the instruments are created with ease of use in mind, the technology behind it is quite advanced so not really something that can easily be copied,” said Göth.
Research is continuing at Lund University, where the focus is now falling on measuring carbon dioxide in packaging.
Lewander said: “It is important to measure both oxygen and carbon dioxide. Oxygen is most important, but there is also interest in carbon dioxide from the industry.”