Friday, February 15, 2008

Electronic "Nose" For Consumers - Hope or Hype?

Last December, I came across an ad for a product called "SensorfreshQ Freshness Meter". The first paragraph was guaranteed to catch the eye of anyone who has ever stumbled across a forgotten package of food at the back of the refrigerator.
"Is your family's food as fresh as it should be? Never guess again. SensorfreshQ," the ad promised, "easily confirms the freshness of uncooked meat or poultry in less than a minute."
The ad went on to explain that this "revolutionary" hand-held device detect the byproducts of bacterial growth in food, and can distinguish among three freshness categories for raw meat and poultry:
  1. meat that is spoiled and should be thrown out immediately,
  2. meat that is still OK to use, but which should be used within a day or two, and
  3. meat that is still fresh.

Intrigued by these claims, I decided to email the manufacturer and ask what tests had been carried out to validate the reliability of their device. I sent the following email message to Food Quality Sensor International on December 20, 2007.
"I am a food safety microbiologist and am maintaining a food safety blog for consumers. I am intrigued about SensorfreshQ and would like to mention it in my blog - if you have corroborating data that you can share with me.

Specifically, I would be interested in knowing what you have done to validate the sensitivity and specificity of SensorfreshQ readings versus actual or incipient spoilage levels."
I never heard from the company. As a result, I am left wondering. What, if anything, has been done to validate this sleek-looking device? Is the SensorfreshQ any more reliable than the human nose? Is it worth US$89.00, plus the cost of replacement cartridges?

So far, this sounds more like "Hype" than "Hope" but I could be wrong. I'll let you know if I ever receive a reply to my email of last December.

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