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Kimia Amir-Moazami researched sustainable storage methods for food at the UdK Berlin. She has developed a project that indicates the deterioration of food: the “Vorkoster” (food tester). We asked her four questions about it.

Interview: Stephan Ott and Jessica Krejci, IfDRA.

Design Research Preis 2021. The Shortlist (1/3): “Vorkoster” (Food Tester) by Kimia Amir-Moazami

"Vorkoster" by Kimia Amir-Moazami
The „Vorkoster“ (food tester) by Kimia Amir-Moazami. Photo: Frangipani Beatt

As part of her bachelor’s thesis at the UdK Berlin, Kimia Amir-Moazami developed a product for the sustainable storage of food that uses a pH-sensitive film to indicate when it is about to spoil or should be used up. By decoupling packaging and expiry or best-before dates, users are given the opportunity to take action themselves against large-scale food waste. By questioning an existing system that is taken for granted, Kimia Amir-Moazami has succeeded in developing a concept with great implementation potential. The cooperation with the established research partner Fraunhofer IAP (Institute for Applied Polymer Research) impressively shows how the combination of design and research can support the sustainable use of resources in a simple way.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

I didn’t start by thinking about how I could prevent food waste, but I was fundamentally concerned with the food industry. As an individual, however, I quickly felt overwhelmed. I then considered what specific issues there were that were relevant in the context of my life: as a person living in the Global North, in one of the richest countries in the world, privileged.

Food waste is one such issue where we have room for action, even as individuals. I then researched what methods existed in the past to check the condition of food. I always had the example of the banana in mind, which itself indicates when it is ripening and changing and also shows this to the outside world. I had also previously done a project on dyeing clothes. It was about the question of how I can think about the need for ever-new clothes already in production. For this, I worked with natural dyes that change their colour through acid-base washing. In the research phase for the “Vorkoster”, I learned that the pH value of protein-containing foods also changes in the decay process. And when the pH value changes, you can visualise it.

Kimia Amir-Moazami wants to make the shelf life of food more clearly understandable
Kimia Amir-Moazami wants to make the shelf life of food more clearly understandable. Photo: Kimia Amir-Moazami

How did the collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute come about?

I did a few analogue, rudimentary tests myself, but quickly realised that I was reaching my limits. I kept asking for opinions from experts throughout the thesis process and then got in touch with the Fraunhofer IAP – Institute for Applied Polymer Research. There I was lucky enough to come across a department that was very open. After presenting my ideas on site, I actually just wanted to gather information with their expertise. However, in a conversation with the head of the Department of Biofunctionalised Materials and Biotechnology, Dr. Ruben R. Rosencrantz, the possibility of a collaboration arose, which became a reality after consulting with his team. In general, the whole team was super open and I was actually able to talk to everyone about my project, it was a cross-fertilisation. Especially Sany Chea, a doctoral student at the Fraunhofer IAP, supported me a lot in the development of the “Vorkoster”. It was also interesting for the Fraunhofer Institute to do an applied and quickly realisable project, because many researchers there deal primarily with very specialised topics that are developed over long periods of time.

Did your way of working differ from the processes at the Fraunhofer Institute?

What was a big difference to the research at the Fraunhofer Institute is the way I look at things. I don’t have the same expertise as the people there, of course; but maybe that’s a good thing because I looked at the processes with a different eye. I love that design allows me personally to engage with and develop an interest in almost any subject – like looking at the world through a different lens. I deal with a topic, find a problem and then develop a solution and it should be as communicative and accessible as possible for a broad public. And that is also something that distinguishes products for me and why I wanted to design a product. Because products tell us through their use why they exist, so also the theme that underlies them. So a kind of material realisation takes place and an abstract theme is transferred into practice in the best case.

The "Vorkoster" can tell how long a dish will keep fresh.
The “Vorkoster” can tell how long a dish will keep fresh. Photo: Frangipani Beatt

Why did you decide to decouple packaging and expiry dates?

First of all, I think it would be great to further establish and spread so-called unpacked shops. But the expiry date printed on the packaging often conflicts with this. Because we are so used to it, we trust this date in particular and no longer in our own senses. I wanted to remedy this and show alternatives. Another aspect why I think this decoupling makes sense was that in the research I found out that ten years ago there were already projects that dealt with how to make cold chain interruptions visible on packaging in order to better understand how long something can still be kept. Some of these ideas were already ready for the market, but were not accepted by the food industry. Because extended shelf life cycles always mean less production. This knowledge about the focus of the food industry has made decoupling all the more important for me in order to remain independent.

Expert Statement Daniela Bohlinger
“I think it is a right approach to move away from this pre-labelling and to think of new approaches to avoid food waste. That is a great contribution to sustainable living. I think the whole labelling requirement will change in the future anyway. (…) When students first question growth, it doesn’t automatically mean that they want to lead a company into bankruptcy, but towards the right solution. We don’t need more products, we need smarter products. (…) With her design, Kimia Amir-Moazami stays within the whole value and value chain, she doesn’t just want to substitute a material, but is concerned with the value of the food itself. I find this mixture of product design and science totally clever. (…) I think it’s important to honour young designers who want to take a different path and to say, that’s right, you can go down this research path, dare to. We need researchers and curious young people who take a critical look at what exists and look for new solutions.”

Daniela Bohlinger, Head of Sustainability BMW Group Design and Associate Professor of Sustainability at the Umeå Insitute of Design, Sweden

The German Design Graduates

This year, the German Design Graduates take place for the third time. The non-commercial initiative for the promotion of young designers honours graduates of German design degree programmes. In this context, the Institute for Design Research and Appliance (IfDRA), which is part of the German Design Council, will once again award a prize for design research. With this award, the Institute would like to honour submissions that are at the interface of theory and practice and whose combination and integration into the design process produces results that are relevant to the future. From three projects nominated for the shortlist, this year’s winner was chosen at the official award ceremony at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin on 1 October 2021.

We are pleased to award Kimia Amir-Moazami the research prize of 1,000 euros for her thesis “Vorkoster” and wish her every success for her professional future.

More on this topic

Homepage of the Universität der Freien Künste Berlin (in German).

The “Vorkoster” on the Shortlist of the German Design Graduates.

Website of the Institute for Design Research and Appliance (IfDRA)

More on ndion

In the next two articles on ndion, we present the other two works on this year’s shortlist for the IfDRA’s Design Research Prize.

Discover more articles about Design and on IfDRA topics.

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