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The invention could also be used to detect food contaminated by bacteria. 

Elisabeth Sherman
August 21, 2017

Scientists have created a paper-based sensor that can detect when your food and cosmetics have spoiled. The sensor can also detect antioxidants in wine and tea and identify new types of medicinal plants, according to a report from Phys.org. The Clarkson University-based team behind the invention will present their findings today at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Silvana Andreescu helped invent surprisingly simple sensor:  When “stable, organic particles” on the sensor interact with substances that the device is designed to detect, the sensor changes color, altering a potential user to, for instance, food that has spoiled and needs to be thrown out. 

“My lab has built a versatile sensing platform that incorporates all the needed reagents for detection in a piece of paper. At the same time, it is adaptable to different targets, including food contaminants, antioxidants and free radicals that indicate spoilage,” explained Andreescu.

Andreescu hopes that the sensor can be used both in the food industry and by the general population, making it a tool you may see used in the future to detect food contaminated by disease. For instance, the prototype of the sensor can already detect a fungal toxin called ochratoxin A, which can sometimes be found in products like cereal and coffee. She predicts that its uses could be expanded to include the ability to detect salmonella and E. coli.

The sensor is still being tested out at the moment, which means that the team of researchers behind the device aren’t sure when it might be available to the public either for home use or incorporated into product packaging. Still, they’re confident that it could someday be sold for commercial use, meaning in the future, you (or your kids) will never again have to smell the old milk to find out for sure if it's curdled.