UK scientists work on tech to 'smell' when produce goes off

The technology could potentially save tonnes of food waste
The technology could potentially save tonnes of food waste

Scientists in the UK are working to develop new technology which will be able to ‘smell’ when fruit or vegetables are going off – potentially saving tonnes of waste.

According to the UK waste advisory body WRAP, 1,200,000 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables are needlessly wasted each year.

Now, a UK-based research team are hoping to develop a new system by utilising a technique commonly used in space science.

They say this new technique can assess the quality of the produce, which will help in waste reduction and allow the industry to make better informed assessments of shelf-life.

Not only would this help reduce waste, but allow food suppliers to be able to pinpoint when the produce is at its peak condition and therefore when it has the most nutritional value to consumers.

Researchers have already identified the unique set of molecular markers given off by rocket leaves before they are about to go off, but wanted to see if they could apply this to other produce.

However, there are a number of logistical issues to overcome before they can make a device suitable for the food and drink industry.

'Small and portable'

Initial work utilised an expensive laboratory technique, Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) for this research – which is a way of separating and identifying different chemical compounds.

This technology has been used for a number of different applications, from climate science to planetary science.

However, to be useful in a supplier or retail environment, the device needs to be made small and portable, but also low-cost.

Dr Hilary Rogers, from Cardiff University said: “Our biggest challenge now is to take this complex technology and apply it to a cost-effective platform so that it can be used at different points in the supply chain, from production through to retail.”

The research project has been funded by the STFC Food Network+, which brings together researchers in the agri-food sector with the aim of solving some of the world’s greatest food sustainability challenges.

It follows news of the government announcing a £5m fund to substantially reduce food waste from farm-to-fork as part of a multi-million pound pilot scheme.