In a scientific review article published on March 2, 2016 in the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Food Science & Technology, Masoud Ghaani and colleagues from the Packaging Division of the Department of Food, Environmental and Nutritional Sciences, University of Milan, Italy, provide an overview of the basic principles and the use of intelligent systems in food packaging.

While active packaging technologies are designed to take a certain action in order to extend the shelf life of a product (e.g. release or absorb substances), intelligent packaging systems are designed to monitor and communicate the condition of packaged food or changes in the environment inside or outside of the package. The development of intelligent packaging was in part driven by the growing usage of active packaging applications, due to the need to monitor the performance of the latter.

The article focuses only on those applications of intelligent systems that can be directly integrated into food packages. Three major types of intelligent technologies are reviewed – indicators (of temperature, freshness, and gas concentration), data carriers (one- and two-dimensional barcodes, and radiofrequency identification tags (RFIDs)), and sensors (electrochemical, luminescence, biosensors and gas sensors). Examples of products available on the EU or U.S. markets are given for each group reviewed.

The authors discuss several challenges that “still hinder the full exploitation of intelligent technology within the food packaging industry.” The two key factors identified are legislative aspects and consumers’ perception. Regarding the former, it is pointed out that the introduction of a specific legislation for active and intelligent packaging in the EU occurred later than in the U.S., Australia and Japan. This resulted in a comparatively wider use of such applications in the latter countries. The reasons for consumers’ reluctance toward intelligent packaging solutions are identified as the low acceptance of non-edible items present with the food product separately from the package itself, and concern about the risks associated with the unintended release of substances from intelligent devices coming in contact with food. The consumers are also worried that the food quality information delivered by the intelligent devices may potentially be misleading.

The authors conclude that, in order to ensure that more applications of intelligent packaging become commercially viable and “into everyday packaging commodities” across the globe, it is necessary to (1) ensure that the final cost of intelligent packaging systems accounts for a minimal part of the whole packaging cost, (2) overcome the inherent difficulties in translating the laboratory trial to industrial scale production, (3) enable integration of several functions within one device (so-called multi-functional intelligent packaging), and (4) substitute the currently applied single-use disposable items with long-lasting reusable devices. To realize these development priorities, substantial technological advancements are still necessary. Further, in order to “educate consumers on the extra benefits arising from intelligent systems,” the authors suggest to provide clear information about the device along with adequate labeling that is expected to increase consumers’ confidence in the safety of packaged food. Regulatory aspects, particularly those related to migration of substances potentially harmful to human health, also need to be addressed.


Ghaani, M. et al. (2016). “An overview of the intelligent packaging technologies in the food sector.Trends in Food Science and Technology (published online on March 2, 2016).