A team of scientists led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) invented an artificial olfactory system that mimics the nose of mammals to accurately assess the freshness of meat.
The “ electronic nose ” (e-nose) includes a “ barcode ” that changes color over time in response to the gases produced by the meat during its decomposition, and a “ reader ” of barcode in the form of a smartphone application powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The electronic nose has been trained to recognize and predict the freshness of meat from a large library of barcode colors.
When testing samples of commercially packaged chicken, fish and beef meat left to age, the team found that their deep convolutional neural network artificial intelligence algorithm that powers the electronic nose predicted the freshness of meats with an accuracy of 98.5%. For comparison, the research team evaluated the prediction accuracy of an algorithm commonly used to measure the response of sensors like the barcode used in this electronic nose. This type of analysis showed an overall precision of 61.7%.
The electronic nose, described in an article published in the scientific journal Advanced materials in October, could help reduce food waste by confirming to consumers whether the meat is safe to eat, specifically a “ Best Before ” label, said the research team at NTU Singapore, who collaborated with scientists from Jiangnan University, China, and Monash University, Australia.
Co-lead author Prof. Chen Xiaodong, director of NTU’s Innovative Center for Flexible Devices, said, “Our proof-of-concept artificial olfactory system, which we tested in real-life scenarios, can be easily integrated into packaging materials and yields results in a short time without the cumbersome wiring used for collecting electrical signals in some electronic noses that have been developed recently.
“These barcodes help consumers save money by making sure they don’t throw away products that are still safe to eat, which also helps the environment. The biodegradable and non-toxic nature of barcodes also means that they can be applied safely in all parts of the food supply chain to ensure food freshness.
A patent has been filed for this method of real-time food freshness monitoring, and the team is now working with a food company in Singapore to extend the concept to other types of perishables.
A nose for freshness
The electronic nose developed by scientists at NTU and their collaborators consists of two parts: a colored “barcode” that reacts with gases produced by rotting meat; and a barcode “reader” that uses AI to interpret the color scheme on the barcode. To make the e-nose portable, scientists have integrated it into a smartphone app that can deliver results in 30 seconds.
The electronic nose mimics the functioning of the nose of a mammal. When gases produced by rotting meat bind to receptors in the mammalian nose, signals are generated and transmitted to the brain. The brain then collects these responses and organizes them into patterns, allowing the mammal to identify the odor present as the meat ages and rots.
In the electronic nose, the 20 bars of the barcode act as receivers. Each bar is made from chitosan (a natural sugar) embedded on a cellulose derivative and loaded with a different type of color. These dyes react with gases emitted by rotting meat and change color in response to different types and concentrations of gases, resulting in a unique combination of colors that serves as a “ scent fingerprint ” for the condition. any meat.
For example, the first bar of the barcode contains a weakly acidic yellow dye. When exposed to nitrogen compounds produced by decaying meat (called bioamines), this yellow dye turns blue when the dye reacts with these compounds. The intensity of the color changes with increasing concentration of bioamines as the meat disintegrates further.
For this study, scientists first developed a classification system (fresh, less fresh, or spoiled) using an international standard that determines the freshness of meat. This is done by extracting and measuring the amount of ammonia and two other bioamines present in fish packaging wrapped in widely used transparent PVC (polyvinyl chloride) packaging film and stored at 4 ° C (39 ° Fahrenheit) for five days at different intervals.
They simultaneously monitored the freshness of these fish wrappers with bar codes stuck to the inside of the PVC film without touching the fish. Images of these barcodes were taken at various intervals over five days.
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