Researchers create packaging trays that warn of contamination before food is opened


July 05, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Researchers at McMaster University have created a new packing tray that can signal when Salmonella or other harmful pathogens found in raw or cooked food packaging such as chicken.

This new technology will enable manufacturers, retailers and consumers to know in real time if the contents of a sealed food package is contaminated without having to open it, preventing exposure to contamination while simplifying the complex and costly laboratory-based detection process that currently adds significant time. and food production costs.

The prototype tray, shaped like a shallow boat, is coated with a food-safe reagent that allows built-in sensors to detect and signal presence Salmonella. This technology can easily be adapted to test other foodborne contaminants, such as E. coli And Listeria.

“This is something that can benefit everyone,” said researcher Akansha Prasad, one of the authors of the paper describing the discovery, which was published in the journal Advanced Materials (“Advancing Situ Food Monitoring Through Intelligent Lab-in-a-Package System Demonstrated with Detection of Salmonella in Whole Chickens”). “We hope this technology will save lives, money and food waste.”

“There is so much at stake with food safety,” said researcher Shadman Khan, one of the lead authors of the paper. “We wanted to develop a system that was reliable, fast, affordable and easy to use.”

The slanted side of the tray directs juice to a sensor embedded in a window at the bottom. Without the need for additional lab work, users can scan the bottom of a sealed package with a mobile phone and immediately know if the food is contaminated.

Having easy and fast access to such information will enable public health authorities, manufacturers and retailers to rapidly track and isolate contamination, reducing the potential for serious infection while significantly reducing food waste by identifying exactly which quantities of food need to be recalled and destroyed, compared to today’s often widespread recalls which end up wasting pristine food.

Furthermore, the researchers say, protecting consumers from contaminated food would create significant healthcare savings. Globally, there are approximately 600 million cases of foodborne illness each year, most of which are caused by the consumption of food products contaminated with pathogens.

McMaster researchers and their colleagues have been working for several years on related technologies, all with the goal of creating simple, low-cost tools to prevent and detect food contamination.

Their work is part of McMaster’s broader Global Nexus School for Pandemic Prevention & Response.

Co-author Tohid Didar, a professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering who holds the Canada Research Chair in Nano-biomaterials, said package-based sensors that measure other conditions such as humidity are already becoming common in Japan and elsewhere.

He said McMaster’s research team on the Lab-in-a-Package project – which featured 11 colleagues from biomedical, mechanical and chemical engineering, medicine and biochemistry – had been working to make the new contamination sensor as adaptable and economical as possible, knowing food manufacturers were in under pressure to keep costs low.

“It is only a matter of time before technology like this becomes commonplace around the world,” said Didar. “Now that we have shown that one type of food packaging can reveal contamination even without being opened, we can adapt it to another form of packaging for other types of food.”

Didar and colleagues Yingfu Li, a professor of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, and Carlos Filipe, McMaster Chair of Chemical Engineering, supervised the research.

“Being able to combine packaging and detection of Salmonella in one system is already very promising,” said Li. “It also shows that we can add sensing probes for other foodborne pathogens to the same system so that packages will check all of them at once. That is the next step for us, and we are already working on it.”


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