No More ‘Sniff Tests’: Cheap Biodegradable Sensors Can Tell Smartphones When Food Has Gone Bad

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In order to help detect spoilage and reduce food waste for supermarkets and consumers, researchers have developed new low-cost, smartphone-linked, eco-friendly spoilage sensors for meat and fish packaging.

One in three UK consumers throw away food solely because it reaches the “use-by” date, but 60% (4.2 million tonnes) of the £12.5 billion-worth of food we throw away each year is safe to eat.

The laboratory prototype sensors cost two US cents each to make. Known as “paper-based electrical gas sensors” (PEGS), they detect spoilage gases like ammonia and trimethylamine in meat and fish products.

The sensor data can be read by smartphones, so that people can simply hold their phone up to the packaging to see whether the food is safe to eat.
The Imperial College London researchers who developed PEGS crafted the sensors by printing carbon electrodes onto readily available cellulose paper. The biodegradable materials are eco-friendly and nontoxic, so they don’t harm the environment and are safe to use in food packaging. The sensors are then combined with “near field communication (NFC)” tags—a series of microchips that can be read by nearby mobile devices.

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