A new class of sensors will help to verify the state of preservation of food and to eliminate waste for supermarkets and consumers
Food waste data is devastating in all western countries: about one in three consumers today throw food away because they can't consume it before the expiration date, but over 16% of the food we throw away is still good.
The sensors currently in the prototype stage have a production cost of the equivalent of two euro cents: known as PEGS, “paper-based electrical gas SENSORS” or paper-based electrical gas sensors, detect the emission of ammonia or trimethylamine in meat and fish during their degradation process.
The collected data can be read by a smartphone and anyone passing on food can realize if it is still edible or not.
The researchers who developed the PEGS at Imperial College London literally printed carbon electrodes on paper: biodegradable, non-toxic and ecological materials that are perfectly compatible with food and the environment, and work in tandem with normal NFC microchips readable by a mobile phone.
Current sensors are not used because they would cost a quarter of a product's packaging. During laboratory tests, PEGS assessed the state of conservation of food much faster than other very expensive sensors, and more accurately. For this winning combination of efficiency and convenience, researchers are confident that they will replace the old, completely approximate expiration dates, also helping producers to develop “short-range” foods with fewer preservatives and less expense.
PEGS are the first food freshness sensors in the world: the Dr. Firat Guder and Dr. Giandrin Barandun co-authors of the study, are enthusiastic: "We made them to make us eat healthier food and to make us waste less: the current expiry date is an unreliable indicator that sometimes leads us to throw away healthy food, sometimes to eat food that has gone bad just because the date still seems valid ".
The peculiarity of PEGS in identifying the state of freshness of relatively expensive foods such as meat and fish will lead to less waste even for shops, no longer forced to throw away unsold food and money (then retaliating on consumer prices). More freshness and more savings for consumers too.
Employment forecast: by 2022 they will be on the market.
Research published today in the scientific journal ACS Sensors leaves little room for imagination: the sensors are at such an advanced stage of development that they can assume their mass use already within the next 3 years.
Not just food
Of course, the field of application of these new sensors can go well beyond the evaluation of the freshness of a food (the next improvements will widen the range of observable products beyond those based on meat or fish): we could use them to monitor pesticides in agriculture, air quality and pollutants that produce respiratory diseases.
To learn more: here is the study published