Measuring the number of vitamins in fruit and vegetables in real-time in the field will soon be a reality thanks to a cheap easy-to-use biosensor being developed by scientists in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Smart Regions went to meet the scientists in charge of the project.
The future of food
Climate change is forcing us to think much harder about how and where our food is grown. In the Netherlands, a European project called ‘EMR Food Screening’ aims to support producers when it comes to making that transition.
The project’s flagship device is a biosensor. While not yet fully commercialised it can quantify the number of vitamins contained in cucumbers and other fruit and vegetables in real-time in the field.
Such information is vital for farmers and food producers, as it enables them to adjust variables, like the amount of humidity for plants, to improve the nutritional quality of their crops.
"Normally, if you want to know how many vitamins are in the vegetable or in fruit, it takes at least days to have this measurement back because it goes to the lab, and then it has to be sent back. And now, you measure it with a sensor. It's getting you the right information within, let's say, within a minute," says John van Helden, Director & Owner of Yookr.
The biosensor detects food vitamins through colour coding. Scientists at Maastricht University have been developing the chemical - or receptor - part of the biosensor. This can determine the precise vitamin content of a piece of fruit.
The cost of the project was 1.9 million euros, with half of that financed by the European Union’s Cohesion Policy. The EMR programme includes universities, researchers and companies from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In addition to food producers, the tech should also allow consumers to know the precise nutritional quality of their food.
"One of the things that you want to know is what, how many nutrients do I have in my food? And you can walk into a supermarket and they say it's healthy, but is it actually healthy? So if you have a sensor that can quickly say, ok, this is the amount of vitamin C that you have in it then is very beneficial," says Bart van Grisven, Associate Professor and the Project Leader of Food Screening EMR.
Communication and greater public awareness are seen as key if the agricultural revolution is to succeed.
The Brightlands campus (Greenport Venlo), a centre that specialises in healthy nutrition and the future of food, has made that its top priority.
"We have contacted all these innovative companies that actually want to do something with getting the consumer more healthy, more aware, but also to help think of new innovations. So we try to gather businesses to join in with the projects and to help the project really close the gap to society in the end."