Electronic Sensor smells a new market in food sector

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Related tags: Sensor

Electronic Sensor Technology's gas sniffer is undergoing trials in
the agricultural sector as a food quality tester, to see whether it
can detect the gasses of bug infestation in plants in one test and
in another, the vapors of mold in a grain silage.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is testing the company's zNose technology to see whether the sensor devices can pick up bug infestation in plants while Enviro-Analytical, a Canadiancompany, is doing the grain silage test.

The zNose could have a wider use for food and beverage companies, such as for aroma chemistry testing or for the analysis of wine and beer, said Edward Staples, the technology's co-inventor and thechief scientist at Electronic Sensor.

"We believe that the zNose is unique in its ability to separate and quantify the chemistry any fragrance, odor or chemical vapor with part per-trillion sensitivity within 10 seconds,"​,he says in a technical paper at the Electronic Sensor's Internet site​. "Unlike trace detection technology, our electronic nose can be trainedto recognize an unlimited number of single-chemical and multi-chemical compound odors involving food quality."

Silage involves the storing and partial fermentation of forage plants such as wheat or corn in a silo. The primary acid produced by corn fermentation is lactic acid and this compound often givesfermented corn a sour note. Corn kernels containing any amount of mold, such as aflatoxins and moldy corn disease are potentially fatal if ingested by cattle. The zNose can pick up the bad gasseswhich human noses normally detect as musty smells, the company said.

The company's own tests indicate that the technology can classify silage such as corn, sorghum, soybeans and wheat as either "sour", "musty" or "good"s.

Electronic Sensor was founded as a private company in 1995 to develop its chemical vapor analysis system as a security device. The zNose is being used by the US security forces to sniff for bombs,illegal chemicals and narcotics at ports, airports and borders. The company also hopes to market it to screen office buildings or airports, military headquarters and other enclosed spaces such asshipping containers.

The zNose has a wider detection range than a regular bomb detector, which can only pick up already known compounds used for explosives, chemical agents or toxins, the company said.

The technology is based on gas chromatography using surface acoustic waves, which gives the device an unlimited number of specific virtual chemical sensors. The hardware and software along with thechromatoraph provide a visual display of vapor analysis and produces images based upon aroma chemistry.

The company has two models of zNose in production. Model 4200 is a vapor detector designed for portability and outdoor use. Model 7100 is a bench top unit designed for laboratory users. It can beused for quality control and other chemical analysis, the company said.

Three other models are in development. The zNose 7100B will be a fixed unit that can be used in buildings to monitor their ventilation systems. Model 7100C is a mobile unit that can be fitted withaccessories to monitor incoming shipping containers. The Mini-zNose will be a handheld model giving real time analysis.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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