Biological sensors could detect food spoilage
‘Intelligent’ packaging that can identify if a product is beginning to spoil is being developed by researchers from Clemson University.
The packages use biological sensors which detect the signals cells send to one another when they begin to break down. Known as quorum sensing, this communication between cells uses signalling molecules (autoinducers) which the sensors would identify in packaged foods.
“The idea behind the quorum sensing is that it makes use of a biological process that microorganisms normally do,” said Kay Cooksey of the Clemson Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences department. “The idea is to take what the microorganisms do naturally, put that with being able to sense that they are starting to create a food spoilage situation and build that in to a sensor.”
Cooksey and Claudia Ionita aim to use the US$100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to improve current food spoilage detection methods. They will create a biosensor array which monitors the development of microbes that can cause food spoilage and detect it as soon as it begins.
Colour-changing labels or materials are often used to detect food spoilage in meat, but Cooksey suggested they have a number of downfalls; they are not a direct indicator of spoilage and usually signal too late.
“By the time the colour change occurs, the human nose can just as easily detect the aroma of the volatiles,” Cooksey said. “Results from the proposed research will serve as a foundation for biosensors and ultimately intelligent packaging to effectively monitor changes in food and, in turn, improve food quality and safety.”
The researchers hope that sensors such as this one could also help reduce waste caused by food spoilage.
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