Heriot-Watt helps develop smart label for food

The UWI Label (use within) is unique in that it is the only item that activates a time device when something is opened

A Heriot-Watt University supported invention that tells when food is going off has been short-listed for a John Logie Baird Award.

The device is the brainchild of Edinburgh inventor Pete Higgins, who is developing it in conjunction with Will Shu from the School of Engineering & Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University.

The UWI label shows how long a jar or bottle has been open for and, more importantly, when it is no longer safe to use.

Pete Higgins

The UWI Label (use within) is a strip of green boxes with a red box at the end, which is placed on the side of a jar of food and alerts consumers to when it is past its best. A top supermarket, two manufacturers and a pharmaceutical company have already expressed interest in buying the tool.

Mr Higgins is one of six Edinburgh inventors who have made it through to the final round of the John Logie Baird Awards. Altogether, 18 people will battle it out to win the £10,000 prize.

How does it work?

Mr Higgins, 46, said: "On the back of a food jar there is a sticker that says you should use the product within, for example, six weeks. But after you have opened it, how do you remember?

"A lot of the time people forget and end up throwing it in the bin.

"The UWI label shows how long a jar or bottle has been open for and, more importantly, when it is no longer safe to use. There is a green strip with a red square at the end, and once it reaches this square it is no longer usable. It is unique in that this is the only item that activates a time device when something is opened.

"I can't explain the secret behind it because our patent is pending, but it works through a chemical solution."

The label also works on medicines such as cough syrup, contact lens solution and cosmetics such as mascara. Food-wise, it can be used on jars and bottles, but  it does not work on tins.

Potential award-winner

The device has been shortlisted as a finalist for this year's  John Logie Baird Awards in the category of Impact Through Innovation - Early Stage. There are two other companies in the category.

The companies presented to a national panel of judges on 23 February, with the winner being announced at a gala dinner in Glasgow on 11 March.