Today’s Solutions: March 25, 2023

About a third of our food goes to waste — that’s problematic not only because those bites could instead go toward feeding people in need but also because food waste is responsible for about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. A lot of that food ends up as waste because we fail to consume it before it goes bad. A new invention aims to prevent that by slowing down the buildup of moisture in food packaging.

A sticker that prevents food waste

The new invention comes in the form of a thermodynamic sticker designed to capture condensation inside your box of produce, all in a bid to keep those strawberries in your fridge from getting moldy.

The brainchild of the idea is rocket scientist Bill Birgen, who previously invented control technology for the insides of jets and spacecraft. The aerospace engineer initially designed the patch for his own use more than 10 years ago. That idea has now grown wings and is currently being developed by California-based startup SAVRpak.

“He was looking at his lunch, and he’s like, ‘My lunch is so sad—I need to do something about this,’” says Grant Stafford, co-CEO of SAVRpak, who later partnered with Birgen to help bring the idea into fruition. “He sat down, and he built a few prototypes.”

How does the thermodynamic sticker work?

The startup designed the patch to be fitted onto boxes of produce, where it absorbs the buildup of moisture that makes food decay. The peel-and-stick patch is made from wood pulp and paper and is intended to stay cool.

Since it’s cooler than the ambient air, the patches absorb the surrounding moisture. Stafford likens it to how a cold glass of water gathers condensation on its surface when it sits outside on a hot day.

The patch starts working whenever produce is temporarily taken out of the fridge. By keeping condensation away from the food inside a package, Stafford explains, “we’re able to minimize microbial growth and keep the food from decaying.”

Increasing shelf life of berries by up to 7 days

In tests, the patch showed to significantly raise the shelf life of a variety of produce. With the patch, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries saw their shelf life increase by four to seven days. Romaine lettuce packaged with the patch saw much less condensation inside the bag, with the greens experiencing less decay and wilting.

The production costs of the patch are also minimal, meaning that suppliers could afford to use it in lower-income countries where refrigeration might not be as common. SAVRpak is currently working on a version of its patch for delicate produce — such as strawberries and spinach — which is expected to show up in packaging by the end of this year.

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