Won by a Nose

Preview image of “Won by a Nose”
  • The precise measurability of meat freshness improves logistics as well as health standards
  • Photo: Max Delsid - Unsplash

In the future, an artificial nose will be able to determine meat freshness with the help of a smartphone app.

An international research team from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore has developed an “electronic nose” that can identify the edibility of meat without opening the packaging. The artificial olfactory system consists of two components: a coloured barcode that changes colour depending on the state of the meat, and an AI-powered smartphone that translates the colour into an easy-to-understand freshness scale.

The idea of the e-nose is not new. Various prototypes have been developed in different countries, but never reached market. NTU’s sniffer relies on innovation: its barcode consists of chitosan, a natural sugar loaded with dyes. The dyes change colour depending on the different concentrations of gases that meat emits during its ageing process. The reaction creates a unique colour combination serving as a “scent fingerprint” for the meat’s freshness. The colour gradient is then analysed by the accompanying app, which indicates edibility based on a classification system (fresh, less fresh, spoiled) developed by the research team.

The e-nose’s concept is based on the natural olfactory system of mammals and can differentiate between smells and flavours. In tests with commercially packaged chicken, fish, and beef samples, which were allowed to age in a controlled environment, the nose achieved an accuracy of 98.5%. This is far more accurate than the standardised best-before date that currently dominates the global market. The non-toxic, biodegradable nature of the barcode also allows for a potentially wide range of applications in all corners of the food industry.

NTU has filed a patent application for the nose and is waiting for confirmation to approve it for other perishable product classes. The developers hope their invention will help consumers assess the edibility of food more precisely in the future and thus contribute to reducing global food waste.