by John Adams

After helping feed NASA astronauts in the 1960s, Ted Labuza is using his most recent patent to help feed those of us stuck on Earth.
Grocery shoppers can use Labuza’s invention, a sticker sensitive to time and temperature, to see how fresh or spoiled their meat is.
The MonitorMark sticker is a co-invention of Labuza, a Food Science and Nutrition professor at the University and Curt Larson, a 3M product specialist.
The sticker is affixed onto the beef packaging at the meat packaging plant. From that point on, if the beef is not kept cold or sits on the shelf at the grocery store too long, the sticker will show to the consumer it’s no good.
The yellow sticker resembles a miniature lottery ticket with a gray strip that looks like it should be scraped with a key. That strip is a tri-layered matrix of scientific ingenuity. Too much of either heat or time will cause the gray strip to darken and notify consumers it’s bad beef.
Labuza said grocers will also benefit because the sticker will monitor meat more closely. Two percent of meat is spoiled on arrival or spoils from sitting on the shelf too long, Labuza said.
The “sell or freeze by” date is not being replaced, however; the sticker is working in unison with the date for now.
“The `sell by’ date is based on X temperature for X amount of days,” Labuza said. This sticker takes the variable out of the equation but Labuza said it is still not 100 percent accurate.
3M is test marketing the sticker in the Twin Cities at non-franchise-owned Cub Foods grocery stores.
“Ted brought me a whole new appreciation for food,” Larson said. Labuza worked at 3M as a senior new products specialist while on sabbatical from his teaching position at the University.
It was actually between the two sites that the idea for what would become his seventh patent came to Labuza.
“I was driving back from a meeting at 3M and it hit me,” Labuza said, adding that he worked it out during one of his classes.
“Ted always wants to see his technology put to use,” Larson said.