Three South Korean researchers from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have figured out how to detect illness-causing bacteria in food without touching. But it requires some Jedi knight skills or at least how to use the fridge-mountable laser.

We know that all types of food perish, save for some McDonald's burgers that don't seem to rot after many years. Usually, though, they last for only a couple of days or months the most. Further, depending on the ambient conditions like temperature and moisture, they can spoil very quickly and become a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses that can make us ill.

The most economical way to know if the food is spoiled is sniffing. If it doesn't smell right, then it probably isn't. But not all types of food that spoil will smell quickly, and some food that taste pretty good can already contain hundreds of these illness-causing pathogens.

Although there are already more reliable approaches to checking food spoilage, they need several equipments and procedures aside from being expensive. 

"They require high-cost, complex equipment, invasive procedures, and skilled technicians which limit their widespread use in the food industry," said the study published in Quantitative Biology.

Thus, the researchers turned their attention to lasers.

According to the study, lasers provide a cheaper and effective way of determining the presence of low-level microorganisms in food like E. coli since they can highlight changes in refraction patterns. To prove this, they conducted an experiment with fresh and contaminated chicken breast tissues.

The researchers took a sample of each of the meats and exposed them to red laser for 20 seconds while a camera takes 30 pictures in every second. They then compared the changes in patterns within the time frame across the obtained images.

"By simply measuring dynamic speckle intensity patterns reflected from samples and analyzing the temporal correlation time, the presence of living microorganisms can be non-invasively detected with high sensitivity," the study added.

Further, the technology takes only a few seconds to use, doesn't compel you to touch the food, and theoretically, it should be easy to mount in a refrigerator just in case you've forgotten how long you've stored your pork chop in the freezer.

But before you say "Take my money," know that this is just an experiment and there's no comment as to whether this will be available for consumer use anytime soon. Moreover, the technology does have its limitations as it may not detect lesser-known bacteria and very small viruses like norovirus.

Photo: Richard Kelland | Flickr

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