Retailer chain Fresh & Easy’s branded seafood packaging carries a Fresh Meter time-temperature-indicator (TTI) label that, activated inline during packaging, provides assurance of high-quality, safe foods from store to home.
In recognizing October as National Seafood Month, it’s appropriate to celebrate it Packaging Digest style by highlighting a smart packaging-driven development that also encompasses the crucial topic of food safety.
Fresh & Easy, based in Torrance, CA, is a retail grocery chain in the western U.S. that operates 97 stores in the Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix areas. It has recently boosted the food safety of its packaged seafood in a consumer-friendly way: All of its stores sell seafood labeled with a “Fresh Meter” time-temperature indicator from Bizerba USA to ensure the delivery of safe products on shelf and into consumers’ homes.
“Fresh and Easy has always carried a great assortment of fresh and previously frozen, responsibly sourced seafood from the best fishmongers,” says Matthew Lovell, brand development, Fresh & Easy. “Our seafood vendors worked hand in hand with us to develop the Fresh Meter as they also see it as a great way to communicate freshness and quality to our customers. The application of the Fresh Meter has been automated as well (vs. the old TTI) saving time in production.”
Two processors, Santa Monica Seafood and Pacific American Fish Co. (PAFCO), provide the retail chain with the packaged Fresh Meter-labeled fish. PAFCO’s website even includes this web page that explains the use of modified-atmosphere packaging and the Fresh Meter indicator.
The Fresh Meter is only as accurate as that of the research on the product side to determine the quality shelf life of the different species and products in the program. Fresh & Easy’s research was conducted by its own food safety scientists and at Bizerba’s laboratory in Germany that together was coordinated with the two seafood vendors.
“They worked through extensive validation to ensure the Fresh Meter met the FDA Seafood HACCP regulations for modified atmosphere packaged fish and customer acceptance of the label design,” says Lovell. “This partnership led to a new, novel printing process for the label and opened the possibilities of new fresh foods utilizing the Fresh Meter.”
The 4-foot-wide seafood display at a Fresh & Easy store that features the Fresh Meter-labeled products.
How it works: Activated inline
Fresh Meter is a branded application of Bizerba’s “OnVu” technology that uses “intelligent” temperature-sensitive ink to print the dynamic indicator. The specialty ink comprises the bulls-eye on the Fresh Meter label that’s surrounded by an outer ring printed in regular ink that serves as the standard. The preprinted labels are provided to the processing and packaging plant and are activated inline after tray sealing. That’s done by a specialized, microwave-oven sized activator/labeler near the end of the processor’s packaging line that activates the Smart Meter using ultraviolet light. When activated, the Fresh Meter indicator’s dynamic inner circle turns bright blue and immediately begins sensing the temperature of the products over time. Consumers can compare that dynamic center circle to the surrounding static-color ring; the latter is printed blue to gray to know when the seafood is fresh (blue) and when it is not (gray).
Bizerba reports that the custom system can apply the Fresh Meter at rates to 120 labels per minute. The implementation of the automatic inline activation and application of the Fresh Meter label was made in June.
The entire process begins with the quality of the fresh seafood.
“Our vendors select sustainably sourced, excellent quality seafood,” says Lovell. “The seafood makes it from their highly skilled fish cutters tables to our stores in about 48 hours. This is faster and fresher than you will find at any grocery fish counter. We use modified atmosphere packaging, which keeps the fish fresher, longer. Our quality and value for seafood is excellent.”
Education also plays a key role in the program’s success.
Next: More details including education