A 20x40mm adhesive strip could soon be adapted as an integral on-pack indicator, spearheading a drive to counter an estimated 4.5M cases of food poisoning attributable each year to food beyond its use-by date.

The brainchild of Canadian born inventor Reuben Isbitsky, Timestrip is a low-cost yet highly effective visual alarm-clock that quite literally counts down the safe period for perishable consumer goods and displays a colour change once the use-by date and time has been reached.

Multi-packs of 15 refrigerator and freezer strips are currently available OTC at branches of Sainsbury’s on a three-month exclusivity arrangement. The refrigerator Timestrip tracks products for short periods of time from one day up to six weeks. The freezer version has a longer time frame of up to four months.

Isbitsky is confident that the RRP of £1.49/pack will encourage widespread usage, in turn leading to a consumer-driven demand for the technology to be adopted by brand owners.

“There’s absolutely nothing like this on the market worldwide,” claims Isbitsky. “We know that people have tried to do it before but, from all the companies we’ve spoken to, we also know that nobody has ever succeeded.

“Going direct to the consumer frees us up from being constrained by the time scales to which food companies are operating, and is also driving demand. Our research has shown that, while consumers like the self-apply product, the prospect of a fully integrated mechanism is what really excites the imagination.

“Consumers will expect their brands to supply this kind of facility. The problem with the big brand owners is that they’re always looking for exclusivity.

“On the plus side though is the fact that they’re continually looking from a USP standpoint at positioning. They have the margin to work with and they have to maintain distance from private label alternatives. That gap is shrinking. They need to demonstrate market leadership, differentiation and innovation.”

Tamper evident, easy-open closures represent a particularly strong potential application, says Isbitsky, who confirms that he is jointly developing a prototype closure for a squeezy ketchup bottle with Crown Cork & Seal.

“With food manufacturers what we’re looking at is activation upon first opening. Currently, that use-by information is incorporated within the pack but these dates are impossible to remember. Once you’ve broken the tamper evident seal with this technology, the countdown time runs automatically.”

Aside from its tie-up with Sainsbury’s, Timestrip will be heavily promoted at this month’s BBC Good Food Show [NEC, 26-30 November].