Start-up creates bioplastic with food spoilage sensor

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In San Francisco, researchers at biotech accelerator IndiBio have created biobased packaging that can tell consumers when the food it contains has gone bad.

“We’re incorporating sensing mechanisms into our materials that allow it to detect things like spoilage or even cold chain monitoring,” Viirj Kan, CEO of Primitives, the startup behind the innovation, tells Fast Company.

Kan and Primitive cofounder Noa Machover developed the sensing technology while students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They decided to pursue thin-film packaging as the first application, since conventional, petroleum-based thin film for food packaging is not recyclable.

“We were talking to waste management facilities, talking to different government officials, and talking to potential customers, to understand what it is that they want and need and what the major problem is,” Kan says. “We’ve been able to validate that flexible film is one of the biggest problems in the plastics pollution issue, so we targeted and focused on that.”

The Primitive sensor is a better indicator of spoilage because expiration dates on packaging are approximate—leading consumers to trash food that is actually safe to eat.

The plastic itself is made from biobased sources, such as algae, and has better barrier properties than incumbents. Primitive plans to launch the packaging later this year, with sensing capabilities included in future products.