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05 июля 2018, 10:58

The Artificial Nose Knows: Device Warns of Spoiled Food

Stay on target

I am rubbish at smelling rotten milk. Which is probably why my morning cup of tea so often tastes … off .

Thankfully, scientists have developed the ultimate “smell test” for rotten food.

A new study, published by the American Chemical Society (ACS), describes a wireless tagging device that warns consumers and food distributors when meat and other perishables have spoiled.

Easily synced with smartphones, this sensor aims to improve detection—before you get sick.

Each year, 48 million people in the US contract foodborne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, some 125,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

“As we know, spoiled food can be very harmful to our health,” study author Guihua Yu, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told HealthDay.

“But sometimes we cannot easily notice the slightly degraded food by smell or vision,” he continued. “Therefore, we aim to develop a cost-effective wireless sensor for food spoilage detection with the assistance of mobile phones.”

Aside from a giant blob of green mold, most folks rely on their sense of smell to detect spoilage. But this method is only as reliable as the sniffer’s nose (which, in my case, is not highly dependable).

Food inspectors, meanwhile, often use bulky, expensive equipment to detect harmful microbes.

But, in the age of at-home DNA tests and powerful printables, there must be a happy medium to avoid food-related maladies.

Enter super smart scientists—and near field communication (NFC) labeling.

Portable and dependable, NFC devices wirelessly transmit information over short distances (about 4 inches). Retailers already use similar radio frequency identification products to track inventory and shipments.

Building on this idea, researchers created a nanostructured, conductive, polymer-based gas sensor able to detect biogenic amines (BAs), which give decomposing meat its vile odor.

When they embedded the sensors into NFC and placed them near meats stored for 24 hours at 86℉, the team was able to successfully detect significant amounts of BAs. The NFCs transmitted this information to a nearby smartphone.

“It will still take some more time before it [a commercial device] is ready for market,” Yu said.

Moving forward, the scientists will continue to improve the phone interface and device-packaging design.

“On the one hand, the sensor has shown clearly it has potential in daily life because it is very convenient and precise for consumers, only requiring a mobile phone embedded with an NFC module,” according to Yu. “On the other hand, this cost-effective method avoids complex equipment and trained personnel, which will appeal to the detection needs in large quantities for some food facilities.”

Not everyone is onboard with the invention, though.

Food-safety expert Lona Sandon, program director in the department of clinical nutrition with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s School of Health Professions, is worried about waste.

“My concern with a sensor such as this is just how sensitive it is,” she said in a statement to HealthDay. “If it detects gases as very low levels, will we end up throwing food out when it is still edible, further increasing the problem of food waste?

“I am also not sure we need a smartphone to tell us whether the food is past its prime or not,” she continued. “Smell, sight, and common sense usually are pretty good for indicators.”

Tell that to the millions of people with food poisoning each year.

Discoloration, soft spots, bruising, or “fuzzy stuff growing on the food” are obvious indications of when to toss fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats.

“Off-putting smells from things like milk and meat are also pretty easy to detect without a fancy gadget,” Sandon suggested.

I guess I’ll just have to keep on with my slightly off tea.

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Source: https://www.geek.com/tech/the-artificial-nose-knows-device-warns-of-spoiled-food-1744965/?source