Learning Food and Water Contaminants using Wireless Signals

Learning Food and Water Contaminants using Wireless Signals
Fadel Adib, Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab

Period of performance: 

September 2019 to August 2021
food safety, sensor, RFID, RFID tag, food, packaging, foodborne, contamination, safety, illness, prepared food


Food safety is a matter of global concern. Reports of adulterations to food products and foodborne illness outbreaks increasingly make news headlines as growing urbanization and changing consumer habits across the globe align with an uptick in the overall consumption of prepared foods.  Food contamination and foodborne pathogens cause sickness and even death, though there are other costs as well: the wasted labor and resources that occur when a contaminated product is disposed of; the lost profit to affected companies; and the lost food products that could have nourished a number of people. 

Developing a tool to quickly and accurately assess whether or not a given product is contaminated could help minimize costs and lower public health effects of food pathogen outbreaks.  This funded project seeks to meet this challenge with a food safety sensor that uses wireless signals to determine food quality and safety using an RFID sticker placed on a food product’s container.  This system turns off-the-shelf RFID tags into spectroscopes which, when read, can measure the material contents of a product without the need to open its package.   The sensor can also identify the presence of contaminants—pathogens as well as adulterants that affect the nutritional quality of the food product.  If successful, this research, and the technology that results, will pave the way for wireless sensing technologies that can inform their users about the health and safety of their food and drink.