Every year, some 48 million people in the United States get sick from something they ate. And thousands of them die from these foodborne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the food that can make you sickest often doesn't even look or smell tainted. Simply giving a food an expiration—or use-by—date doesn't do much to protect people from bacteria like salmonella and e. Coli. After all, it's not just time that spoils perishables; it's also temperature.
One of the key factors contributing to this ongoing public-health problem is the question of which way the data is flowing. The systems we have in place now to track food safety are largely centralized: Huge agencies like the CDC and FDA collect information, track sickness as it's reported, and disseminate crucial public-safety notices.
But what if individual food items had smart labels that gave consumers the information—beyond simple expiration dates—to determine whether something is safe to eat from the moment they pick it up at the store? Thinfilm, for example, makes paper-thin electronic labels that are bendable and rewritable. Its CEO, Davor Sutija, says there's value in offering more item-by-item information without relying on centralized infrastructure to make sense of it.