The process of testing food for bacteria is a long and arduous one. However, Dr. Lili He, a food scientist from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is leading a team of researchers to develop an inexpensive device that can be linked to your smartphone and warns you of harmful bacteria in your food.
The team has designed a chip which incorporates a molecule known as 3-mercaptophenylboronic acid (3-MBPA), which attracts and binds to bacteria. This chip is immersed in a sample of juice or mashed food and then rinsed with a high-pH buffer liquid.
This liquid washes away things like sugars, fats, and proteins that come from the food. However, it does not wash away the bacteria. Afterwards, the chips is placed in a simple light microscope. These have already been designed to be used with smartphones.
An app on the phone then counts the bacteria on the chip. It can detect as few as 100 bacteria cells per 1 mm of solution. What makes this method special is that the results are obtained in just two hours. The standard method of culturing bacteria from food takes two days.
That being said, there are bacteria detection methods quicker than that but none of them are as convenient as using a smartphone. The doctor also claims that the other methods might be as fast but there are not as sensitive and as reliable as her chip.
After the technology is finally through the development phase and is commercially available, it can be used by cooks and restaurants to maintain a healthy level of food. Furthermore, it will have a huge application at disaster sites, where it can check if the food and water is contaminated or not. The applications are endless!