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New ripeness sensor developed to monitor produce

Scientists at MIT have created a sensor that has the ability to detect the ripeness of produce.
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Written by Jenny Wilson, Contributing Editor on
Flickr / DC Central Kitchen

Scientists at MIT have created a sensor that has the ability to detect the ripeness of produce. Such a product allows grocers to keep track of their food and sell it before it spoils. The sensor works by detecting levels of ethylene, a ripening hormone in fruits and vegetables.

As plants ripen they produce ethylene, which changes their texture and appearance to indicate whether they are not yet ripe, just ripe, or over-ripe. Tested on pears, bananas, avocados, apples, and oranges, the sensor was successful in measuring how much ethylene was secreted.

Warehouses have expensive systems to monitor gas composition in produce, but this sensor provides a low-cost and easy to use alternative that could be used in smaller facilities as well. MIT chemistry professor Timothy Swager, who led the project along with a group of students, "envisions the inexpensive sensors attached to cardboard boxes of produce and scanned with a handheld device that would reveal the contents’ ripeness." Produce carriers could make decisions accordingly and decide which products to offer at a discounted value.

This product may soon be available for commercial use: Swager has already started trying to patent the technology and has plans to develop a product that can work in conjunction with a handheld device. He emphasized the low-cost benefits of such technology, saying that, "this could be done with absolutely dirt cheap electronics, with almost no power."  If it could reduce the amount of produce wasted from grocery stores as a result of spoiling, it would certainly be a small price to pay.

[via MIT, MSNBC, Discovery News]

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