- A 3-D-printed "smart cap" may be the wave of the future for food safety detection, thanks to engineers from University of California-Berkeley and Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University. The findings were published Monday in the online international journal Microsystems & Nanoengineering.
- Researchers tested the smart cap on a carton of milk, which they quickly tilted upside-down to allow milk to enter the 3-D-printed electrical sensor and then left out of the refrigerator unopened for 36 hours.
- "The property of milk changes gradually as it degrades, leading to variations in its electrical characteristics. Those changes were detected wirelessly using the smart cap, which found that the peak vibration frequency of the room-temperature milk dropped by 4.3 percent after 36 hours. In comparison, a carton of milk kept in refrigeration at 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit saw a relatively minor 0.12 percent shift in frequency over the same time period," according to Berkeley News.
To create the smart cap, researchers had to find a different set of materials than the polymers traditionally used in 3-D printing to encase the sensitive electronic components, as the traditional polymers were poor conductors of electricity. The electric circuits in the smart cap "detect the changes in electrical signals that accompany increased levels of bacteria," Berkeley News explained. This makes the smart cap a beneficial sensor for spoilage in milk and other food products.
3-D-printed food has been a much-discussed topic in the industry, but using 3-D-printed electronics as a form of food safety technology is an exciting development for both the food and 3-D printing industries. When the materials become affordable enough, it could be easier for food manufacturers in the future to include these easily mass-produced, smart caps and similar smart sensors in their packaging operations. This could lend more credibility to these food companies as consumers would appreciate the company's transparency as well.