This Sensor Could Detect Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables Within Minutes

Many fruits and vegetables we eat contain pesticide residues. To better detect the presence of these substances in food products, Swedish researchers have developed a small, inexpensive and repeatable sensor. Developed by scientists from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, this nanosensor is inspired by a method that has existed since the 1970s: surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS). This is a somewhat technical term for a process that consists in determining the presence of biomolecules across a metal surface. This technology can allow the presence of pesticides in fruits and vegetables to be easily detected, providing a fast and effective way to protect human health from these harmful substances. The new research could also help reduce the costs of a tedious and complex process, largely due to its price tag.

“The use of SERS sensors in practical applications is hampered by high manufacturing costs from processes with limited scalability, poor batch-to-batch reproducibility, substrate stability, and standardization,” the researchers explain in a paper outlining the technical process they developed.

In fact, the technology of these Swedish scientists involved the use of a SERS nanosensor. The researchers deposited aerosols using a flame spray to quickly make SERS films. To test the effectiveness of the process, small amounts of insecticide were applied to apples and then collected in the laboratory with a swab before being analyzed by the nano-sensor.

Even with trace amounts, the sensor developed by the Karolinska Institutet was able to determine the presence of pesticides within five minutes. However, the effectiveness of this tool must be backed up by larger scientific tests before it can be more widely disseminated.

This isn’t the first time technology has been at the center of an effort to improve food safety. In December 2021, the Taiwanese company Asus introduced a device that can help disinfect fruits and vegetables before they are cooked by analyzing the quality of the water in which they are rinsed.

The device is called the Asus PureGo, and it automatically activates when submerged in water. If the unit indicator appears red or orange, fruits or vegetables still need to be washed. When the pointer turns green, you can eat them!

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