Scientists develop electronic nose to prevent food poisoning

The days of wondering if those leftovers you’ve had in your fridge for a week are still good or not (before eating them anyway and just hoping for the best) may be coming to an end. 

What happened: An Israeli company has developed an “electronic nose” called Sensifi that uses AI to detect when harmful bacteria has contaminated food. 

  • Deadly bacteria like salmonella and E.coli produce distinct “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) that the human nose detects as smells.

  • The Sensifi device registers those VOCs as electronic signals and uses AI to determine whether they are given off by made by harmful bacteria or not.

Why it matters: It’s an example of how advances in AI tech has real-world applications beyond generating wacky images and stale marketing copy — in this case, improving the safety of the food supply chain.

  • Around 4 million Canadians get sick from foodborne illnesses every year and 11,600 are hospitalized, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

  • Fast bacterial detection could help businesses avoid product recalls, which can cost millions of dollars even in cases where no one gets sick. A 2008 listeriosis outbreak at a Toronto Maple Leaf Foods plant linked to 20 deaths cost the company nearly $50 million.

Zoom out: Researchers believe the AI system powering Sensifi could be expanded for other applications, like helping supermarkets or restaurants tell if food without best-before dates is still fresh.—TS