Milk carton of the future shows exact expiration with QR code

Food scientists are developing a milk carton suitable for a future in which most people own a smartphone, Cornell University has announced. The cartons would reduce food waste by helping consumers tell whether their milk (and, presumably, other beverages) are still in good quality and suitable for consumption. In comparison, existing 'Best by' dates are often imprecise.

Though milk cartons at this point in time feature a 'best by' date, these differ from 'use by' dates in that they only point toward the peak quality of the product rather than when it is likely to sour. However, consumers often interpret these dates as expiration — rather than quality — indicators and throw away their milk once that date arrives. More often than not, the product hasn't actually spoiled at that time.

These stamped dates are archaic and will likely be replaced with a far more sophisticated alternative in the future — one likely to involve a QR code that contains a more precise expiration date, as well other information about the milk, including which farm it originated from, the plant that processed it, and any potential microbial influences.

These milk cartons of the future may also include indicators that show the temperature of the milk product and link it to any given period of time. The time and temperature data would be combined to form a quality rating accessible to the customer in a related mobile app. Unlike generic dates stamped on a carton, users would be able to view precise info on a phone or through their smartwatch.

The technology would also be useful for retailers, which could utilize the data to better estimate how much longer they have to sell the product. These estimates could enable consumers to make sure the product they're purchasing is of adequate quality and to benefit from dynamic pricing, which would drop the price shortly before its expiration arrives.