25 Dec '19
Scientists in Siberia have come up with their own innovative solution to the problem of frozen foodstuffs quality deterioration as a result of a long haul from supplier to customer. With the new Siberian thermal strips called Cryo-Tags, transporters that deal with fish, crabs, squids, dumplings and stuff like that would be able to swiftly react to an unwarranted temperature change in refrigerator trucks or cars.
The problem has always been around, and time is ripe for a doable solution to emerge. The global frozen seafood market is an estimated 145 million tons a year of stuff hauled across regions and borders, and consumers keep expecting more. Of course, refrigerated solutions are used for transportation; but journeys are very lengthy sometimes, and the unexpected does happen, with temperature regimen infringements occurring more often than not—hence the high probability of accidental defrosting. Refreezing keeps the stuff edible for some extra time, no doubt—but surely to the detriment of its consumer quality. All that results in a considerable reduction of the item’s shelf life, and in a subsequent commercial loss at the retailer’s end.
Cryotech, LLC and its Tomsk partners appear to have found a way of enabling easy and low-cost monitoring of temperature regimen for the above purposes. The Cryo-Tags they have developed are very compact adhesive indicator strips that are said to be able to identify and signal an unwelcome temperature rise in a refrigerator above minus 18°C. With the tags, a user will always know if there was a brief power failure or an outage for several hours.
How it works
Two types of tags have been developed. One, which is activated manually, contains a liquid that is insulated from the strip itself with a protective layer. The layer deforms at the moment of activation. As temperature rises, the liquid starts to fill the special indicating “windows” on the tag which “tell” the user what happened and how bad the defrosting was: e. g., minus 15°C for six hours, minus 5°C for two hours, etc.
Similar solutions (pretty costly though) are no news to the global market. So, the Tomsk project team had a farther horizon to look at. Out of their effort to further ease the use of the thermal strips there came a new self-activating tag.
The automatic tag has a tiny glass bulb in it which is also filled with a liquid. When initially frozen, the glass bulb crashes. With temperature rising, the liquid spills and, just like with type 1, fills the indicating “windows” that mark the duration of defrosting.
A set of 1,000 Tomsk tags would cost a prospective buyer an estimated $450 max. With further technology fine-tuning the product could be even easier on the pocket (app. $150).
With an eye to international markets
It’s X5 Retail Group, a sizable Russian retailer, that kick-started the effort by challenging Cryotech with this idea. The huge firm sells foodstuffs all over Russia, and it’s in the company’s best commercial and reputational interests to keep seafood and meats impeccably fresh at hauling and storage.
Cryotech’s key R&D partner in the project is the Engineering Chemical and Technological Center set up by the Tomsk State University (TSU), one of the leading research universities in Russia’s Asian part. The Center brings together applied sciences, advanced chemical technologies and data analysis methods to offer turn-key solutions to third-party manufacturers and business people. Deep science came from TSU’s chemists.
DI-Group, a Russian private company, and the TSU Venture Fund also bought enthusiastically into the idea. The TSU Venture Fund invested in the project at the seed stage; Cryotech is currently looking for a next-round investor.
The developers have plans to launch pilot three million strip production for 2020, and then scale up to serial production in 2021 with a capacity of 10+ million pieces a year.
The company wants to start by getting a toehold in the frozen seafood market. The meats market will be the next goal. If they pull it off, the developers may also set their sights on a range of cryogenic projects in the medical sector. At any rate, expansion to international markets is already on the table.
X5 Retail Group says it’s ready to test-run the invention. Konstantin Belyakov, an advisor to the TSU Rector and the head of the TSU Venture Fund, told Marchmont News that the project team expects “a good enough profit margin when sales begin.”