Is that pork on your fork?
A University of Central Florida (UCF) researcher is developing an easy-to-use and highly sensitive device using nanotech to detect food fraud. The new device will be specifically designed to detect adulterated food, such as the substitution of pork in beef products.
Adulterated food results in people paying more for their food than it’s worth, as sometimes foods are bulked up with less expensive filler products. Eating the wrong food can also violate some religious restrictions on foods consumed and be a concern for people with food allergies.
Leading types of reported fraudulent food are fish and seafood, oils and fats, alcoholic beverages, meat and meat products, dairy products, grains and grain products, honey and other natural sweeteners.
Current tests to detect adulterated food are either expensive and complicated or are easy to use and cheap but not as effective, said Xiaohu Xia, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Chemistry and the project’s principal investigator.
“This research aims to establish a simple method using a new test strip, similar to a home pregnancy test, to detect if there are adulterants in food products,” he said. “It would be a test inspectors as well as consumers could use.”
To do this, the researcher and his team are updating existing detection technology, known as a colorimetric lateral flow assay, which uses gold nanoparticles to detect meat proteins. They will create a new metallic coating, made of platinum, palladium or iridium, that will go around the gold nanoparticles to increase their sensitivity.
Preliminary results showed that using a platinum coating made the tests 100 times more sensitive than current colorimetric lateral flow assays. This makes them closer in effectiveness to the more expensive and complicated, but precise, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.
The researchers will now work to increase the sensitivity and reliability of their test, including by using different metals for the coating. For this project, they are specifically looking for the presence of meat and blood in foods, such as pork protein in a sample of beef.
The work builds on Xia’s research into biosensing, including recent work to create a biosensor for early cancer detection.
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