In the future, you might worry a whole lot less about buying expired food — scientists at McMaster University in Canada have invented a see-through patch that warns when food contains dangerous bacteria. The group envisions the patch being used on the packaging of all kinds of mass-produced food items, including meat, eggs, dairy, and produce.
The patch effectively detects food-borne bacteria without tampering with the food sample; the process would be both low-touch and low-effort for consumers. A simple device or a smartphone could identify a signal from the packaging, indicating whether the food inside is safe to eat. According to the group’s testing, the device remained stable for up to 14 days before there was a significant risk for inaccuracy.
“In the future,” study author Hanie Yousefi explained to Medical News Today, “if you go to a store and you want to be sure the meat you’re buying is safe at any point before you use it, you’ll have a much more reliable way than the expiration date.”
The researchers believe mass-production of the patch would be relatively simple and inexpensive, making it easy for food manufacturers to incorporate into production.
“We knew that [the food industry] was an area where our work could have a potentially positive impact in people’s lives and human health,” explained Carlos Felipe, co-author of the study, to The Daily Meal. “The technique is quite easy and a simple printing process will allow adding this functionality to current packaging materials.”
According to the World Health Organization, almost one in 10 people fall ill from food poisoning every year.
The first iteration of the patch is designed to detect E. coli, which is responsible for approximately 96,000 illnesses each year according to 2014 data. The group hopes to expand the use of the patch to other common pathogens.
“We are currently working to create sensors for salmonella and listeria as the next phase of our work,” Felipe declared.
The patch could also work to reduce food waste, eliminating waste that’s produced when food is tossed based on a premature expiration date.
The invention certainly provides hope for a future with fewer food poisoning scares — but for now, you should check the expiration dates on these foods carefully. They’re the ones most likely to make you sick!