SMART LABEL: The New Way of Food Packaging

Credit to Michael Putra Utama / Natasha Denisa / Sisilia Kordayanti (i3L Biotechnology Students), and Putu Virgina Partha Devanthi, S.Si., M.Si., Ph.D. as Lecturer

When you are at a grocery store trying to buy meat, how do you make sure the meat you are purchasing is safe to eat? People are not able to indicate if raw meat is safe just by its appearance. What if there was a physical indicator? 

Our indicator could be the solution for this problem. We have created an indicator that is able to detect changes in pH and nitrogenous compounds in the meat packaging, indicating its freshness through color change.

Every year, food poisoning causes about 600 million diseases and 420 thousand deaths. These cases lead to diarrheal diseases and the top causes of death and illnesses are infections by Salmonella and E.coli. Those two microbes are commonly found in raw meat, even more so if they are unfresh (Harrington, 2015). Unfortunately, there is no reliable direct way to differentiate between  fresh and  unfresh meat. An easy solution to this would be to have an indicator on the meat packaging.


As the meat degrades, it releases nitrogenous compounds such as amines into its surroundings caused by the consumption of sugars by the invading spoilage microbes. These compounds can be detected as Total Volatile Basic Nitrogen (TVBN) by the indicator (Bekhit et al., 2021). Alkalinity is another parameter affected by degrading meat, where increased pH indicates further meat degradation. pH meters utilize this mechanism to identify the freshness of meat based on color change (“Growth of spoilage bacteria during storage and transport of meat”, 2016).


Color indicators used in the indicator strip are phenol red and bromothymol blue. Phenol red, which is red in color, is used to analyze the change of pH of the meat. If the indicator changes its color from red to yellow, it indicates that the meat is fresh. On the other hand if the color changes from red to reddish pink, it indicates that the meat is not fresh and is not safe for consumption (Magnaghi et al., 2020).


Bromothymol blue is used in indicators to quantify the TVBN inside the meat packaging. A color change from yellowish to green or greenish-blue indicates a high number of TVBN in the vicinity of the product. This would point to the degradation of the meat, not only due to the change in its biochemical composition (less sugars in the meat and more released nitrogen), but also due to the increase in spoilage microbes in the meat (Byrne et al., 2002).


Our product, which is an indicator on meat packaging, is aimed at the food safety testing market with the target market being supermarkets, raw meat suppliers and butcher shops. It is essential for supermarkets, raw meat suppliers and butcher shops to have this indicator as it is able to increase the amount of confidence the sellers have on their products as well as convince the customers of the quality and safety of said product.




Bekhit, A., Holman, B., Giteru, S., & Hopkins, D. (2021). Total volatile basic nitrogen (TVB-N) and its role in meat spoilage: A review. Trends In Food Science & Technology, 109, 280-302. doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2021.01.006

Byrne, L., Lau, K., & Diamond, D. (2002). Monitoring of headspace total volatile basic nitrogen from selected fish species using reflectance spectroscopic measurements of pH sensitive films. The Analyst, 127(10), 1338-1341. doi: 10.1039/b206149j

Fortin, C., Goodwin Jr, H. L., & Thomsen, M. R. (2009). Consumer attitudes toward freshness indicators on perishable food products. Journal of Food Distribution Research40(856-2016-57822), 1-15.

Growth of spoilage bacteria during storage and transport of meat. (2016). EFSA Journal, 14(6). doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4523

Harrington, R. (2015). Every year, almost half a million people die from a seemingly harmless illness.

Business Insider. Retrieved 16 April 2021, from

Magnaghi, L., Capone, F., Zanoni, C., Alberti, G., Quadrelli, P., & Biesuz, R. (2020). Colorimetric Sensor Array for Monitoring, Modelling and Comparing Spoilage Processes of Different Meat and Fish Foods. Foods, 9(5), 684. doi: 10.3390/foods9050684

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