Purdue Develops On-The-Spot Smartphone Food Tester

May 29, 2018

Researchers at Purdue University say they can test food for bacteria faster – and prevent foodborne illness outbreaks in the future.

Euiwon Bae is a senior researcher at Purdue’s School of Mechanical Engineering. He says the Purdue Center for Food Safety Engineering wanted to prevent foodborne illnesses, like the E. coli outbreak earlier this year.

"How do we detect bad bacteria, harmful bacteria – like pathogens – that is causing a lot of illnesses?" Bae says.

To do so, the team created a liquid that makes E. coli emit light, a smartphone cradle to help the phone detect that light, and an app that both supports the smartphone's camera and raises an alert if light is detected.

The current process involves gathering a physical sample and then shipping it to a lab and waiting several days for the results. The Food and Drug Administration says there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. each year.

Bae says, this technology is part of a larger trend – utilizing smartphones for more than communication and entertainment.

"It’s a very very powerful device. And depending on how we design it and use it and imagine it – it can apply in many many different areas,” Bae says.

Purdue has a patent on the technology, but there are still a number of steps before it is available.