“The milk is past its expiry date. We have to throw it out.”
“No, we don’t. It smells fine.”
“But it says so right on the carton.”
It’s an argument that’s been heard in households around the world: Does the expiration date on the package really mean the milk or the chicken or the eggs are bad?
Not necessarily, says Yoav Levy, the founder and CEO of Freshpoint , an Israeli startup that aims to solve the freshness debate once and for all using intelligent date code technology.
It’s an idea with enormous potential: Freshpoint just signed a deal with a major American restaurant chain.
“My daughters take the cottage cheese out of the fridge, check the date, and off it goes in the trashcan,” Levy laments to ISRAEL21c. “Their decision is based on zero information.”
An estimated 30 to 40 percent of food manufactured in the West is thrown away while it’s still good, Levy adds. “If you translate that into dollars, direct and indirect, including transportation and the environmental effect, that’s a trillion dollars a year of lost economic value.”
The expiration dates on most packages you find in the supermarket today are based on a static, worst-case scenario that simply calculates the number of days since a product left the warehouse, Levy explains.
Freshpoint adds a second component: temperature. Together, it’s known as a “TTI,” for time-temperature interval.
Manufacturers simply put Freshpoint’s inexpensive label on a product to monitor the temperature ranges the product goes through on its journey to your home. The label – which can be printed in a wide range of sizes, shapes and designs — is activated when the product leaves the factory.
Consumers and food industry clients can judge the status of a food package at a glance. If the dot in the label is green, it’s okay. If it’s red, time to toss it.
Ordinarily, consumers don’t know where that package has been. Was it left out for an hour in the heat or was it immediately placed in a refrigerated container?
“Small differences in temperature can create huge changes in the quality,” Levy explains. For example, a differential of 5 degrees up or down can change the shelf life of a package of meat by 30%.
Freshpoint on burger buns
The company scored big earlier this year when a US restaurant chain (Levy declines to specify which one) started using Freshpoint’s TTI labels to track hamburger buns.
Freshpoint’s indicator is turned on when it’s applied to the packages at the bakery, then pauses when the buns are frozen, and reactivates when the buns are defrosted in the restaurant. If the buns are not used in 48 hours, the dreaded red dot appears.
Following a 1,000-store pilot, the restaurant chain plans to roll out the technology nationwide in 2018. Levy believes that once other retailers see this used on a wide scale, they’ll adopt the technology too.
Freshpoint labels are also being used in South Korea to track fish freshness under the brand Pohang Guryongpo Guamegi.
A winning idea from a failure
Levy started Freshpoint with Technion chemistry professor Yoav Eichen in 2004. Eichen was working on a technology to store data on crystals.
“The process completely failed,” Levy recalls, but Eichen “realized that the crystals were a time-temperature indicator.”
Everything seemed lined up for Freshpoint to be an easy sell, but the two Yoavs met unexpected resistance.
“The current expiration date codes have been in place for 50 years,” Levy tells ISRAEL21c. “We are trying to create a big change in very traditional markets that are not easily changed.”
It’s not that manufacturers weren’t interested in tracking freshness using technology, but solutions previously available to them were too expensive. “It’s hard to put a smart chip on a package when the cottage cheese costs less than a dollar,” Levy says.
So Freshpoint raised money from Battery Ventures and signed on CIBA Specialty Chemicals as a client, in order to track the expiration dates on some of the company’s pharmaceuticals. Freshpoint also works with other healthcare companies. For instance, it has a product for catheters that provides a clear visual indicator of when the tubing needs to be replaced.
The food industry took another decade to come around to the idea.
Freshpoint prints its TTI labels in Israel, the United States and Switzerland. The 25-employee company is headquartered in Haifa and is opening an office in New Jersey soon.
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