Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, Universita di Catania in Italy, CEA-Liten and STMicroelectronics have invented a circuit that makes this possible: a plastic analog digital converter.
This development brings plastic sensor circuits costing less than one euro cent within reach. Beyond food, these ultra-low-cost plastic circuits have numerous potential uses, including, pharmaceuticals.
Researchers said consumers and businesses in developed countries throw away around 100 kilogrammes of food per person, mainly because the "best before" date on the packaging has passed. That waste is bad for consumers' budgets and for the environment.
Much of this wastage results from the difficulty in estimating how long food will stay usable. To minimise the risk of selling spoiled food to consumers, producers show a relatively short shelf life on their packaging, they said.
To fight food waste, producers could include an electronic sensor circuit in their packaging to monitor the acidity level of the food, for example.
The sensor circuit could be read with a scanner or with your mobile phone to show the freshness of your steak, or whether your frozen food was defrosted.
"In principle that's all already possible, using standard silicon ICs. The only problem is they're too expensive. They easily cost ten cents. And that cost is too much for a one euro bag of crisps," Researcher Eugenio Cantatore of Eindhoven University of Technology said.
"We're now developing electronic devices that are made from plastic rather than silicon. The advantage is you can easily include these plastic sensors in plastic packaging," Cantatore said in a statement.
The plastic semiconductor can even be printed on all kinds of flexible surfaces, which makes it cheaper to use. And it makes sensor circuits costing less than one eurocent achievable.
The invention was presented last week at the ISSCC in San Francisco.