Food safety is a concern for everyone. With roughly one in six Americans getting sick each year with foodborne illness, which is roughly 48 million cases of food poisoning per year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was only a matter of time before someone looked to technology to help combat the problem.

A Smart Tool to Help the Cause?

There’s a new food safety tool out, that purportedly works with your cell phone. The smart device, called the FOODSniffer, is a relatively new high-tech gadget that is making waves recently over its latest marketing campaigns – featuring a gorgeous red-headed woman with a plethora of food innuendos. For those of you who have seen AskMen.com’s article on the campaign titled “Foodsniffer Ad Makes Preventing Food Poisoning Sexy”, you are probably asking yourself what the buzz is with the new FOODSniffer device. USA Today and Today have already featured the device on their videos and websites. Other media outlets like DailyMail, NBC Bay Area, MailOnline, and LifeHack have also featured, and some even endorsed, the product. It seems like the device could revolutionize at-home food safety concerns. There are so many questions surrounding this product. How does it work? Most importantly, does it actually work and can it help keep me and my family safe? Without testing the device, this post will examine what is already known about FOODSniffer.

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A Bit of Background

ARS Labs, the company behind the FOODSniffer product, started its journey to technology recognition on Indiegogo, a start-up website for new creative innovations. In 2014, the company raised over $78,000 to produce the device and bring it to market. At the time, ARS Labs marketed the device, then called PERES, as “an innovative electronic ‘e-nose’ which enables users to determine the quality, freshness of beef, pork, poultry and fish.” Chief Executive Officer Augustas Alešiūnas identified the company’s inspiration for the product as follows:

“Have you ever had a food-related illness? It’s likely that you or someone you know has. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that more than 200 diseases are spread through food, and one out of three people living in industrialized countries may be affected by foodborne illness each year. After experiencing food poisoning myself, I have decided to create a device that would help me and my family easily check the freshness and quality of our food, and PERES was born.”

In short, ARS Labs, comprised of Swiss scientists, designed the device to detect whether (1) a meat product is actually fresh, (2) if it could be hazardous to your health, and (3) if it is a food safety risks. The company focused the majority of its early marketing toward consumers who seek to only eat the best quality products. Its size and portability is intended for individuals to take with them to the grocer when purchasing meat products or for use in their home kitchens.

How Does It Work?

The wireless product connects the base device, which looks a bit like a remote control, via Bluetooth technology to a smartphone or tablet application. Media outlets have mentioned that technology of this kind has been out for many years, and is even used by butchers or meat manufacturers to test the freshness of their products. However, the technology is incredibly expensive and was not made available to the public.

Per the company’s website, the sensors on the base product detect gasses emitted from meat that is going bad. It does not detect the presence or absence of harmful bacteria or viruses. The company notes that the sensors test temperature, humidity, ammonia and over 100 volatile organic compounds. Once the consumer points the device at the meat in question and the user clicks the button, the sensor will sample the air and gasses in that vicinity of the food. It then sends the sensor’s data back to an application on your smart device, which will exhibit a green, yellow, or red circle to convey the food’s freshness. A green circle means the food may be fine to eat; yellow means the food is a potential risk; and red puts the consumer on notice that the device recommends the food should not be eaten under any circumstances.

The device also allegedly operates on a “cloud-based algorithm” that will continuously feed it new data to ensure that the algorithm continuously meets the latest food safety science findings and recommendations. The company publically launched the device in March of 2015. The device is sold for a retail price of about $129.99 and comes in four colors. For more information about the company and the device, you can visit them at www.myfoodsniffer.com.

Does It Actually Work?

It is hard to say. The company has not issued any published scientific evidence to prove or disprove the effectiveness of the device. It also boasts an 80% to 95% accuracy reading, which is highly variable. Although many in the mainstream media outlets endorse it, it is not recommended to be a replacement for other food safety practices. The company has issued a notification on its website to combat this liability:

“NOTICE: The FOODsniffer is intended to detect the deterioration of meat, fish, and poultry from causes that result in the emanation of gases that reflect such deterioration. It is not intended for, and will not indicate, the presence of gastroenteritis from bacteria such as salmonella, e.coli, shigella or similar causes. Always follow safe food handling procedures to minimize this risk.”

The FOODSniffer will likely not help you prevent cross-contamination of bacteria and will not tell you if your meat has harmful bacteria, like E. Coli, Shigella, Salmonella, or Listeria monocytogenes, to name a few. New methods to help keep everyone safe from foodborne illness are always on the horizon and are a welcome add-on to agency-recognized food safety practices.  Therefore, using the FOODSniffer device in addition to food safety practices may be a good idea. However, it may not be a good idea to use it in lieu of other practices – like frequent hand washing, separating raw items from ready-to-eat ones, and cooking food to its optimum cooking temperature.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/peres-smart-way-to-protect-you-from-food-poisoning#/