A new mobile food scanner has been designed to combat the growing problem of food waste.
Approximately one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted, including food thrown away at home because it no longer looks appetising or has superficial blemishes, or because it is past its best-before date.
Much of this food is still safe to eat, and consumers might waste less if they had a reliable way of checking.
To address this need, a team led by German research organisation Fraunhofer on behalf of the Bavarian Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Forestry has developed a mobile food scanner that uses infrared measurements to determine the safety of fresh food and display the results in a connected app.
The core of the scanner is a near-infrared (NIR) sensor that measures the ripeness of the food and identifies the amount and composition of its contents.
“Infrared light is beamed with high precision at the product to be investigated and then the scanner measures the spectrum of the reflected light. The absorbed wavelengths allow us to make inferences about the chemical composition of the food,” explained Dr Robin Gruna, project manager and scientist at Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation (IOSB).
Data collected by the scanner is sent via Bluetooth to a database for analysis. The results are then transmitted to an app which displays them to the user and shows how long the food item will remain fresh under different storage conditions, or indicates that its shelf life has already expired.
The user is also given tips on alternative ways of using food that is past its best-before date.
It’s thought that the technology could be used throughout the value chain, from raw material to end products. Once suitably trained, it can also determine the authenticity of a product or be used to identify whether products such as olive oil have been adulterated.
“The range of potential applications is very wide; the device just needs to be trained accordingly,” Gruna said.
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