Freshness scanner for food

Mobile device analyzes the shelf life of meat, vegetables and co

Are the tomatoes still edible? This could betray a small scanner in the future. © Fraunhofer IOSB
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Can you still eat that? Answers to this frequently asked question could be provided by a small food scanner in the future. The device developed in Germany uses infrared analyzes to determine whether a product is still durable - or belongs to the bin. In this way, supermarket operators and consumers should be able to check the freshness of certain foods themselves. The researchers hope that less actually still eat edible products in the garbage.

Is the yoghurt really still edible? Can you eat the meat without hesitation? When it comes to the shelf life of food, supermarket operators and consumers are over-cautious: they throw away many products because they no longer look appetizing or their best-before date has expired. According to a study by the environmental foundation WWF, ten million tons of food are dumped every year in Germany alone - although a large part of it would still be edible.

Analyzer in miniature

Scientists led by Robin Gruna from the Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, Systems Engineering and Image Evaluation in Karlsruhe want to change that. They have developed a pocket-sized mobile scanner that will tell in the future whether a product is really ripe for the barrel or can be easily sold and eaten.

The principle behind it: A near-infrared sensor determines the degree of ripeness of the food and determines which and how many ingredients it contains. "Infrared light is sent precisely to the product to be examined, then you measure the spectrum of the reflected light. The absorbed wavelengths then allow conclusions about the chemical composition of the product, "explains Gruna. In the laboratory, such analyzes have been possible for some time. "What is new is that this is now possible with small, cost-effective sensors, " says Gruna's colleague Julius Krause.

Still durable?

On the basis of the determined data a prognosis for the durability is created. For this, the scanner sends the information via Bluetooth to a cloud-based database in which appropriate evaluation procedures are stored. Specifically, these are intelligent algorithms that continue to learn with each food analyzed. "This allows us to increase the recognition potential, " says Gruna. In the first tests, this was already clipped with tomatoes and minced meat - here the calculated freshness was in good agreement with results determined in current laboratory tests. display

The freshness conclusion is finally transmitted to an app. It detracts from retailers and consumers how long the food will last for certain storage conditions or whether it has already been over-cooked. In addition to the control of shelf life would be possible with scanner and app and a fastness test of food, as the researchers report. For example, it is possible to identify adulterated olive oil in this way.

First test phase in supermarkets

How well the device works in practice, will show at the beginning of this year, a first test phase in supermarkets. The scientists also want to find out how the scanner is accepted by the consumer. If he keeps himself safe, some food waste could be avoided in the future, so hope. However, this will not work for all goods long ago. The scanner can only rate the quality of homogeneous products. He still fails to produce products with different ingredients - pizza, for example.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

- Daniel Albat