Scientists at Massachusetts-based company C2Sense are working on building a tiny “artificial nose” that will be able to smell out food spoilage. While most of us can easily identify the pungent aroma of long-expired foods, it can be hard to tell when foods are recently expired—or about to go bad. C2Sense wants to solve that problem by building sensors that can give “freshness readings,” providing detailed information about the relative freshness of our foods.
C2Sense started by building a sensor that can identify ethylene, the gas fruits release as they ripen. According to WIRED, the sensors detect tiny traces of ethylene, which the human nose can’t pick up. This is important not only because it will tell you how ripe an individual piece of fruit is, but because exposure to ethylene also causes unripe fruits to ripen more quickly. Groceries and restaurants outfitted with the C2Sense ethylene chips, therefore, will be able to identify and isolate overripe fruits before they impact the rest of their stock.
But the ethylene sensors are really just the beginning for C2Sense. Their ultimate goal is to create an inexpensive sensor that can identify a wide range of different gases. Already, by altering the material used to detect ethylene, they've constructed a chip that can detect up to four types of gas, including those released by meat. Ultimately, they want to build a chip so cheap and tiny it can be incorporated into produce bags at grocery stores with no extra cost to the customer—which will tell us how fresh the food we’re about to buy really is.