Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) chemists have announced a new smart packaging concept—a sensor that can detect gases emitted by spoiled meat.

The sensor could offer more accurate expiration information on packaging and reduce food waste, according to Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry at MIT. Swager is the senior author of a paper describing the new sensor.

The sensor consists of chemically modified carbon nanotubes that can be chemically modified so that a particular gas changes their ability to carry an electric current.

Researchers tested the sensor on four types of meat: pork, chicken, cod and salmon. They found that when refrigerated, all stayed fresh for more than four days. When left unrefrigerated, the meats decayed at varying rates.

The researchers have filed for a patent and hope to license the sensor for commercial development.

Roberto Forloni, a senior science fellow at food packaging supplier Sealed Air, commented:

“There are several potential advantages in having an inexpensive sensor for measuring, in real time, the freshness of meat and fish products, including preventing foodborne illness, increasing overall customer satisfaction, and reducing food waste at grocery stores and in consumers’ homes.”


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