Dipstick’ Test Could Prevent Food Poisoning

It may not be one of life’s biggest dilemmas, but it’s certainly one of the most common.

Whether to bite the bullet and sling wilting produce and two-day old fish in the garbage or hope for the best and throw it in the pan.

In many cases it’s a judgment call, but US researchers have announced that they have come up with a tool that could take the guesswork, and the angst, out of the decision-making process.

The tool is a disposable dipstick that can detect whether a food is still safe to eat or whether it’s a health hazard that could lead to a case of food poisoning.

In laboratory tests, the device had a 90-percent accuracy rate.

“It has the potential to change the way individuals think about the quality of their food and greatly impact public health,” said John Lavigne, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

The dipstick is made of special polymers or synthetic materials that change color in the presence of chemicals formed by disease-causing bacteria.

These chemicals are known as nonvolatile biogenic amines and are generated during the bacterial decay of food proteins and provide an indirect measurement of the extent of food spoilage, the researchers said in a paper presented at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society here.

The polymers even change color to reflect the level of amines and food spoilage.

In laboratory tests on fresh salmon, fresh tuna and canned tuna, the dipstick changed from a dark purple to a yellow in the presence of badly spoiled fish, and dark purple to a reddish color in the presence of mildly spoiled fish.

The researchers plan further tests with vegetables, fruit and meat.

Preliminary testing shows that the dipsticks are sensitive to even small amounts of protein decay caused by bacterial activity, Lavigne said.

The hope is to market the dipstick as a test kit that consumers could use at home or in restaurants.

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