> New Fruit-Mimicking Sensor Aims to Improve Freshness of Food Products - The Food Safety Company New Fruit-Mimicking Sensor Aims to Improve Freshness of Food Products - The Food Safety Company
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    Friday, 24 March 2017

    New Fruit-Mimicking Sensor Aims to Improve Freshness of Food Products

    Img: Empa 
    A new project being conducted by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), which is currently at the trial stage, is aiming to develop a new line of sensors designed to mimic the attributes of real fruit in order to improve the freshness of such foods for consumers.

    Before fruits such as apples, bananas, mangos and oranges even reach the shops, they have to be picked, packaged, refrigerated, packed in refrigerated containers, shipped, stored and finally laid out on display. As a result, an alarming quantity of food is wasted each year as the fruits perish en route. The new device hopes to reduce this problem by mimicking the size, shape and composition of real fruit in order to provide more accurate data on the core temperature and overall freshness of individual fruit.

    Communications spokeswoman for Empa, Cornelia Zogg, explains, “Mangos, bananas and oranges have usually travelled long distances by the time they reach our shops.

    “However, not all the cargo makes it safely to its destination.

    “Although fruit is inspected regularly, some of it is damaged or may even perish during the journey. This is because monitoring still has significant scope for improvement.”

    While it has been possible to measure factors such as core temperature for some time, this requires an invasive process whereby a sensor probe is inserted through the fruit’s skin and into the centre. Not only does this damage the fruit in question, it is also unreliable as the technician responsible tends to test only the front row of pallets in the container, which are better refrigerated than those in the centre.

    “Cargo could be left outside during a layover, or you could have a power outage during transit, all of which affects quality,” project leader Thijs Defraeye told the BBC.

    “Exporters do have ways to measure freshness, but our sensor is more accurate because it simulates the characteristics of individual types of fruit.”

    The new sensor seen nestled among real mangos awaiting transport   - Img: Empa
    In order to create the new sensors, the team working on the project took X-rays of real fruit and modelled their shape and texture to create a synthetic version composed of a mixture of water, carbohydrates and polystyrene, which accurately the characteristics of the fruit in question. The final sensor is made using a mould, which itself is constructed on a 3D printer.

    “If something goes wrong, suppliers will be able to access the temperature data from the whole journey and work out what happened.” says Mr Defraeye.

    “We hope this will help them control their sanitary protocols and cut the cost and time of logistics.”

    The researchers are currently seeking potential commercial partners are they continue with field tests.

    Sam Bonson

    Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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