FOODSNIFFER Phone App Puts Food Testing in Consumer Hands

Technology & Health

foodsniffer(NaturalSociety) Have you ever wondered what sort of contaminants were in your food or if the cookie you are eyeing has nuts or other allergens in it? A new phone app is in the works that could take the guesswork out of all of your food concerns, giving you a tool to determine what’s in your food, and giving researchers access to real-time food concerns.

FOODSNIFFER (FOOD Safety at the point-of-need via monolithic spectroscopic chip identifying harmful substances in fresh produce), is being developed by European researchers and could put food safety in the hands of consumers. It would scan food and identify potential contaminants like pesticides, allergens, and foodborne illnesses.

In a press release describing the app, the developers say it was born from two observations:

“First, that answering food concerns requires a new device that would be both widespread and cost-effective. Then, that the latest high tech trend – sensors integrated in smartphones – provides a unique opportunity to hit two birds with one stone. With its new technology, the project aims to acquire the data needed to reverse permanently the negative trend in food safety anywhere, at any time and by anyone, all with great precision, rapidly and at low cost.”

Not only would the app ‘serve you’, it would deliver the information you gathered from the “field” to researchers in the lab.

The €4 million ($5.5 million) FOODSNIFFER project will involve 10 European partners, including researchers from various fields. Researchers want to develop an optical biosensor which will be embedded in a smartphone that can scan food — such as a jar of baby food — for the chemical signatures of unique toxins. Data collected, along with user metadata including time, date and location, would be transferred to the Internet cloud. Researchers could than compare data collected by different phones and create charts or maps to trace contamination.

“The smartphone application we are developing, which everyone will be able to use, will not only trace harmful substances in our food but also transmit these on-the-spot analytical test results along with the metadata – identity of the user, time and date, location and nature of the sample – to the internet cloud,” say the creators. “It will also be possible to compare the results available in the database and instantly create or update charts/maps that would be useful for the producer, trader, retailer or even consumer.“

While some might not be comfortable with a food safety app that tells researchers where they are eating and when, they would have to balance this potential fear with how much they value knowing there are no pesticides or allergens in their food.

Right now, the app is under development for use in Europe, but there is no reason it wouldn’t cross the pond to the U.S. The creators say they hope it will be available commercially within three years following the completion of their project, but that developing the technology fully will be ongoing.