Restaurants, grocers try food freshness tags
November 16, 1999
From Financial News Correspondent Ceci Rodgers
CHICAGO (CNN) -- Tiny tags that can go on everything perishable from meat and salads to dairy products are a new high-tech tool that can help cooks and customers figure out if the food is fresh.
"It's really just consumer confidence," said Todd Redmon of Eatzi's Market & Bakery. "It gives them added assurance that when they get home their food is still safe to eat."
Made by 3M and two smaller competitors, the labels do what date stamps can't -- they measure time and temperature and turn color when food has sat out too long or hasn't been properly refrigerated.
At Chicago's Charlie Trotter's restaurant, the freshness labels arrive with the trout.
"This is a good way for us at the restaurant to not only visually see the freshness, but also know if it's been handled or shipped improperly," said chef Matthias Merges.
With outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and listeria on the rise, companies are betting consumers are more worried than ever about food safety and are willing to pay a few extra pennies to know their meat is not spoiled.
"What it does essentially is say to the manufacturer, the distributor and the seller that you better handle the product properly, otherwise the date on the product is a lie to the customer," said Ted Labuza of the University of Minnesota.
Still, use of the freshness tags is scattered. According to researchers, big grocery chains are testing the product, though only one, Cub Foods, has said so on the record.
One factor they're weighing is added cost.But analysts say it's inevitable -- if the technology is available -- to give consumers the truth about the freshness of their food and sooner or later, they will demand it.
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