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A team of researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, led by Tohid Didar, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, have developed a patch that can detect harmful pathogens in packaged foods. The new technology findings were published today in the journal ACS Nano.
Patch technology is innovative yet simple
Although innovative, the science behind this new application is quite straightforward. According to CTVNews, Didar explained during a phone interview that the technology consists of simply printing the molecules that are able to detect the presence of different bacteria onto a patch that will then be put in food packaging.
According to the researchers, the patch would eliminate the need to open the packaging in order to test it for contamination. Instead, the flexible transparent patch would be equipped with molecule sensors on one side of it to detect bacteria from inside the food packaging.
Customers could then scan the patch with a handheld device, such as a phone, to determine if there are any harmful pathogens present. The patch is set to provide a more reliable and trustworthy way of ensuring food is safe than today’s best before stamps.
"In the future, 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."
Lead author Hanie Yousefi, a graduate student and research assistant in McMaster's Faculty of Engineering, said: "In the future, 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 discovery is a collaboration between mechanical and chemical engineers and biochemists. Didar’s team has been working with groups headed by the chair of the school’s chemical engineering department Carlos Filipe as well as biochemist Yingfu Li, whose labs were used to develop the signaling technology.
The application is quite versatile having the potential to have a number of uses beyond the supermarket such as detecting infections in wounds and testing medical surfaces for contagious bacteria. As such, Li’s team is in the process of developing additional sensors to detect more bacteria than the E. coli samples tested so far.
Technology has good potential for market
More studies need to be conducted and regulatory approvals need to be established, but the patch is a product with good potential for market, provided a commercial partner is found.
Mass production can easily be achieved as the patch is inexpensive since the DNA molecules used to detect bacteria can be printed directly onto the test material.
Didar said: "A food manufacturer could easily incorporate this into its production process.”
The researchers have named the new material "Sentinel Wrap" in tribute to the network responsible for paper-based detection: the McMaster-based Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network.