Researchers in Finland have developed a sensor that can detect ethanol in the headspace of packaged food products. The invention could help control food quality throughout the distribution chain and reduce waste caused by spoilage, according to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd.

Ethanol, in addition to carbon dioxide, forms as a result of spoiling produce. The new sensor monitors ethanol emitted within a food package from the deterioration of the contents.

The sensor layer is part of a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag, and it transmits information about the freshness of the food in the package to the retailer or customer. Information from the sensor can be read wirelessly, for instance via smartphone, and the freshness data can be stored in real time in the cloud, enabling the comparison of a product's quality with its previous or later condition.

According to VTT, the sensor and the RFID tag can be manufactured into a label or sticker and easily attached to a food package. The price of the sensor will be low enough to make it a viable option for use in the food industry.

With more than 100 tons of food products thrown away in Europe each year, food waste is a significant and growing problem. The amount of waste is projected to rise to 126 million tonnes by 2020 if nothing is done to tackle the issue.

VTT is in the process of securing a patent for the sensor and is looking for a partner to commercialize the product.