Is Your Meat Safe to Eat? An Electronic Sniffer May Soon Tell You

A slew of new gadgets are coming to ward off food-borne illness.
Feb 4, 2015·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Expiration dates are tricky. The Natural Resources Defense Council says they mostly serve to protect companies from liability, not consumers from E. coli, and are a big reason 40 percent of the food we produce is sent to landfills each year. On the other hand, ignoring them seems risky—one in six Americans fall ill from food poisoning annually.

A promising alternative to sell-by dates has arrived: the Foodsniffer.

The hand-held gadget analyzes temperature, humidity, ammonia (found in “pink slime”), and other organic compounds to determine whether beef, poultry, pork, or fish is safe to eat. Just point the device toward the meat, click a button, and the data is sent to a smartphone or tablet. An app will produce a “fresh” or “not fresh” message as well as a detailed reading of the compounds present in the food. The folks behind it claim an accuracy rate of 80 to 95 percent.

The idea occurred to Lithuanian designer Augustas Alesiunas after a bout of food poisoning.

“Some of the poisonous compounds that are produced when meat spoils are actually odorless,” he said in a statement. “Unless you are preparing meals in a sterile laboratory you really don’t have the ability to know. Early food spoilage can occur just because of contact with cookware or other foods stored in the fridge.”

Alesiunas and his team ran a two-month Indiegogo campaign to fund the project, raising more than $77,000—beyond the $50,000 goal. The device, expected to launch in March, will cost $120.

The Foodsniffer is not the first of its kind. Researchers at MIT have been developing a simple sensor that can detect hazardous gases in food. A student at Brunel University in the U.K. last year won a James Dyson Award for creating the Bump Mark, a patent-pending bioreactive label that produces a bump when a food item is no longer safe to eat. The devices have yet to go mainstream, but the environment and consumers stand to benefit. According to NRDC, “use by” or “best by” date labels confuse nine out 10 Americans.