Image credit: American Chemical Society

If you’re like me, you’ve done the smell test on that week old ground beef to make sure it hasn’t spoiled. And if you’re also like me, there’s always a nagging doubt about the accuracy of old-school sniff tests, especially when the downside of rotten meat is such…um…high steaks (sorry not sorry).

Lucky for us, in the future we’ll have some tech-powered backup to make sure our sniffers are accurate.

The latest take on food spoilage sensors is from researchers out of China’s Nanjing University and the University of Texas at Austin, who published a paper last week outlining their research project in which they created a “a nanostructured conductive polymer-based gas sensor” which they embedded into an NFC tag. When the sensor detects meat spoilage vapors, it acts as a switch for the NFC tag to send an alert to a nearby smart phone (normal NFC transmission range is less than 4 inches).

From the study’s press release:

The scientists created a nanostructured, conductive, polymer-based gas sensor that can detect substances called biogenic amines (BAs), which give decomposing meat its bad odor. They embedded these sensors into NFCs placed next to meats. After the meats had been stored for 24 hours at 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers found that the sensors successfully detected significant amounts of BAs. The sensors then switched on the NFCs so they could transmit this information to a nearby smartphone.

The most likely place for this type of system is further up the food value chain than my fridge, but there’s a good chance consumers will eventually use this type of tech in the home kitchen. While others like Amazon are already looking into gas sensors as a way to detect spoiled food, the concept of embedded sensor switches on NFC labeling could eliminate the need for sensors built into fridges. While I like the idea of smarter fridges, the NFC approach wouldn’t require a big up front purchase of a high-end appliance. I also think some retailers might see smart labels (like those with built-in meat spoilage sensors) as a differentiator.

And of course, there are other ways to reduce food waste without the need for gas-sensing labels. One of my favorites is Mimica’s label, which turns “bumpy” when milk approaches its expiration date. Another is Ovie’s Bluetooth tag and storage system, which accesses spoilage data from USDA and FDA to help us better predict when food might go bad.

Bottom line: as we found out at last week’s meetup, food waste continues to be a massive problem, but there are lots of innovative ideas – some close to market, others further away – that could help us become less wasteful.

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