The ‘use-by’ and ‘best-by’ dates printed on milk containers may soon become a thing of the past, giving way to more accurate and informative QR codes, says a report published recently by Cornell University in the USA.

The study finds that consumers are more willing to use QR codes to discover how long the milk is drinkable and so create substantially less agricultural and food waste.

Samantha Lau, a doctoral student in food science in Food Safety in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences worked with Cornell’s Milk Quality Improvement Program, connected with the Cornell Dairy Bar – which sells fluid milk in addition to ice cream on campus. She wanted to assess consumer acceptance for QR code technology that could one day replace the static ‘best-by’ or ‘sell-by’ dates commonly found on food products.

Customers had a choice: purchasing milk with printed best-by dates or buying containers with QR codes, which, when scanned by a smartphone, would display the best-before date. Also, she placed a dynamic pricing element where consumers were encouraged to purchase milk with a shorter remaining shelf life, by offering a price discount as the date approached.

“During a two-month study, over 60% of customers purchased the milk with the QR code, showing a considerable interest in using this new technology,” Lau said. “This revealed that the use of QR codes on food products can be an innovative way to address the larger issue of food waste.” Fluid milk is responsible for about 65% of dairy product food waste, costing US industry and consumers nearly $6.4 billion annually, according to the paper.

In another boost to the use of QR codes the top 300 brands of drugs in India, including commonly used analgesics, vitamin supplements, pain relievers, blood-sugar-lowering medicines and contraceptive tablets, have been shortlisted by India’s drug pricing authority and will be required to add QR codes to item level packaging in order to guarantee provenance and facilitate tracing.

According to reports from market research company Pharmatrac, the brands were picked based on the moving yearly turnover value. The list has been forwarded to India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which will change the drug laws as needed.

This follows the Indian health ministry’s instruction earlier this year (see AIPIA News 06/02/22) that all bulk consignments of active pharmaceutical ingredients produced or shipped in India shall carry a QR code on their label at each tier to facilitate tracking.

According to industry commentators, the new regulations will impact medium and small businesses. Since 2011, the Indian government has been attempting to implement QR codes. Pharmaceutical businesses and lobbying groups have expressed worries about several sets of tracking and monitoring instructions issued by various departments and had requested a single QR code system.

This article was created in collaboration with AIPIA (the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association). Packaging Europe and AIPIA are joining forces to bring news and commentary about the active and intelligent packaging landscape to a larger audience. To learn more about this partnership, click here.