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Biodegradable Micro-Sensor Ensures Food Stays Fresh During Transit

The non-toxic sensor is also edible

For foods to retain their freshness, it’s important for some products to be kept at certain temperatures from the time they’re harvested until they’re ready for consumption. A team of scientists at ETH Zurich led by Giovanni Salvatore have now developed a biodegradable micro-sensor to help ensure that temperature-sensitive products don’t spoil.

Micro-sensors have already been implemented for many different tasks, such as the detection of poisonous gases. However, they’re often made of metals that are harmful to the environment and human health. Salvatore’s new development, which has been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, is made of non-toxic edible materials — magnesium, silicon dioxide, and nitride in a compostable polymer. “Magnesium is an important component of our diet, while silicon dioxide and nitride are biocompatible and dissolvable in water,” ETH Zurich said in a press release. “The polymer in question is produced from corn and potato starch.”

The whole sensor is only 16 millimeters thick. (A single human hair, by comparison, is 100 millimeters.) It’s powered by an external battery with ultra-thin biocompatible zinc cables. On a connected but non-biodegradable chip is a microprocessor and transmitter that sends temperature data via Bluetooth to an external computer. At this time, it’s possible to monitor products within 10 to 20 meters.

Salvatore expects that within five to ten years, micro-sensors such will become commonplace in mass markets. “Once the price of biosensors falls through, they could be used virtually anywhere,” he said in a statement. He hopes one day they’ll measure not only temperature, but pressure, gas build-up, and UV exposure.

It’s unclear when this new product will roll out to greater markets, but if you’re looking for some lower-tech culinary gear, check out these 25 kitchen gadgets that you probably don’t need — but might want anyway.

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