Your next fridge might help you dodge a food poisoning bullet

In the race to make everything in the house smart, internet-connected fridges are often held up as an example of what an underwhelming endeavour the Internet of Things can be. It can tell you when you’re running low on milk? Great – so can my eyes, and as an emergency backup, so can my taste buds and stomach.

Your next fridge might help you dodge a food poisoning bullet

But a fridge that can tell you that the food you’re about to cook up will have you throwing your guts up within hours… well, yes, that would be extremely helpful. Thanks, fridge! Good boy!

That may sound like a pipe dream (the feature, not me talking to my fridge like a beloved family pet), but it’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Researchers from South Korea’s Advanced Institutes of Science & Technology have

discovered that scanning chicken breasts with red lasers can detect microorganisms including E coli and Bacillus. You really don’t want to consume either of those: the best-case scenario is feeling horribly, horribly ill.fridge_could_detect_microorganisms

How does a laser spot microorganisms? Well, it’s down to how the laser reacts when it hits the chicken. In normal raw chicken, comfortably within its use-by-date window, a red laser will scatter in a specific way. If the chicken is teeming with microorganisms, then laser speckle changes because they’re moving around with their flagella. A camera pointed directly at the meat was able to spot the difference.

While this technology is currently limited to the lab in South Korea, making it somewhat prohibitive for you or I to scan our lunches, the researchers suggest that the technology could eventually be packaged into an affordable scanner that detects microorganisms within seconds – even if meat is packaged in plastic. “The present method can also be implemented in an existing refrigerator with a laser diode and a simple photodetector,” the researchers write.

One drawback is that the scanner can’t tell you what kind of microorganism your meat has… just that there’s something wriggling on it, but to be honest, that’s around the level of detail I need to make an informed choice and pass on dinner. The flip side is that it could also cut down on food waste from people not wanting to take a chance on meat that they’re concerned could be dicey, but is actually still perfectly good.

In other words, smart fridges of the future might be good for more than just counting milk cartons – they could make you dodge a food poisoning bullet. That’s the kind of feature I can really get behind.

READ NEXT: Lab-grown meat – why the farm could switch to the petri dish

Images: Ant Jackson and Veronique used under Creative Commons

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