The tiny sensor that could stop you from eating rotten food

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When Expired Food Is Safe to Eat

A whiff of decaying meat or rotting fruit might be enough to make you turn up your nose at a refrigerator's contents. Other times a simple sniff leaves you wondering—and might either leave you chomping down on rancid food or trashing expensive groceries. A burgeoning tech company hopes to take the guesswork out of smell tests with a simple sensor.

C2Sense, a Cambridge, Mass., startup is working on a small chip that converts the smells that accompany ripening fruit and meat into electricity—and can alert the entire food supply chain about items that are about to turn.

The material of the wireless chip reacts to trace amounts of ethylene or amine gases, released from fruit and meat respectively as they continue to lose freshness. A smartphone or control station can scan the chips to reveal the concentration of the released gas, and therefore whether the food item is fresh, about to spoil, or doomed for the dumpster.

Sensors able to identify ethylene have been around for decades, cofounder Jan Schnorr told Wired. But the C2Sense chips' cheap components and ability to detect minute chemical traces could be a game-changer for the entire food industry.

The goal is to make the chips cheap enough that they can be mass-produced and incorporated into food packaging. A simple smartphone scan would alert shoppers and retailers about the food's freshness.

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Ideally, the sensors will be used proactively to keep food out of the trash. Schnorr states that the sensors could be valuable in all stages of the supply chain. Wholesalers could make smarter shipping decisions if they know when food is expected to spoil, sending items closer near expiring to local shops instead of across the country. Grocers could stock their shelves accordingly while consumers wouldn't have to rely on their nose to tell them if their food is still edible.

About one third of all food produced goes to waste, according to the USDA. That amounts to $165 billion worth of food wasted by Americans alone. Not only are there 795 million people who are food insecure across the globe, much of trashed food winds up in landfills, emitting harmful greenhouses gases.

Schnorr and his team have received $1.5 million in funding, according to The Boston Globe. They've already tested a prototype and hope to have a product on the market by 2017.

To find out more about being efficient with your food, check out the video below:

When Does Food Really Expire?

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