Contamination of food and drinking water is a significant source of disease transmission around the world. As demand for food rises along with the increasing global population, so does the need for efficient and affordable methods for food and environmental monitoring that are suitable for use in both developed as well as developing countries. Continuous monitoring of food safety parameters is essential to ensure that food products reaching consumers are of high quality and fit to eat, as well as for helping to reduce food waste. Environmental monitoring ensures the quality of water, soil, weather, and livestock involved in food production as well as the cleanliness of drinking water. Moreover, environmental monitoring can reduce environmental pollution and help fight climate change.
Methods that have been used for food and environmental monitoring purposes include chromatographic (e.g., HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography)) and immunological (e.g., ELISA (Enzyme linked Immunosorbent Assay)) detection methods, but as these can be costly and time-consuming (1), a need remains for advancements in food safety monitoring technology. A promising solution is electrochemical biosensors, which are well suited for monitoring food safety due to their simplicity, sensitivity, and affordability. Electrochemical biosensors are useful for the monitoring of both food contamination, such as heavy metals and toxins, and environmental factors influencing food growth, such as air quality (1).
Current applications of electrochemical sensors in food safety largely revolves around detecting physical and chemical contaminants. For example, various electrochemical sensing platforms have been developed for the detection of traces of harmful heavy metals such as mercury or chromium in food. Similarly, electrochemistry has been utilised in the sensing of Sudan I, melamine and other illegal food additives, as well as mycotoxins and remnants of veterinary drugs in food products (1). An example of the last is Wang et al’s (2) homogeneous aptameric electrochemical biosensor for the detection of ampicillin in milk.
Electrochemical biosensors can also be used to identify spoiled or microbially contaminated food, for example via the detection of changes in pH or the release of gases from spoiled food products (3). One way in which electrochemical biosensors have been used in such a manner is monitoring the release of biogenic amines (BA) from high-protein foods such as meat and seafood. BA are compounds formed as a result of microbial contamination, and high concentrations of BA in meat products are an indicator of spoilage and can thus be harmful to consumers’ health (4).
Environmental monitoring is important both for the maintenance of food safety and quality as well as for the reduction of disease transmission through contaminated water (5). Since electrochemical biosensors are simple, sensitive, and small, they have the potential for use in a variety of applications in environmental monitoring. One of these is the assessment of air and water quality to ensure that drinking water and food produced using these resources are safe to consume. Keeping track of pollutants in the environment not only improves food quality but also helps to reduce climate change. Electrochemical biosensors can also be used to keep track of proper waste disposal, leading to reduced pollution and increased recycling (6).
Another application of electrochemical biosensors in environmental monitoring is the tracking of energy production and usage. A promising feature of electrochemical biosensors is integration with the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows for the coordination of a large number of sensors to process large amounts of data. Many small sensors can be integrated, for example, to keep track of solar or wind power and control energy consumption as necessary, optimising energy usage and saving costs (6). IoT integration has also been implemented in food sensors to detect ethylene release (a sign of spoilage) across batches of food (7).
Monitoring of food safety and environmental parameters is important to reduce disease transmission and waste production as well as fight environmental pollution and climate change. Electrochemical biosensors are well suited for this task, as they can quickly detect very small volumes of analytes, and are small, portable, and affordable. They can be used to detect chemical, microbial, and physical contamination in food products as well as monitor environmental factors such as water quality and proper waste disposal. Additionally, electrochemical sensors can be connected with IoT to coordinate energy production and consumption or food quality data across a large number of sensors.
The future of readily available safe food and water may be soon realised due to novel technology and innovative solutions, like electrochemical biosensors. The broad applications and benefits of electrochemical biosensors in the monitoring of the environment and food processing system can help to drive technological advancements for better food safety as they tackle some of the biggest challenges currently faced in food safety including sensitivity, limits of detection and costs.
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- Zeng, L., Peng, L., Wu, D., & Yang, B. (2018). Electrochemical Sensors for Food Safety. In Nutrition in Health and Disease—Our Challenges Now and Forthcoming Time. IntechOpen.
- Wang, X., Dong, S., Gai, P., Duan, R., & Li, F. (2016). Highly sensitive homogeneous electrochemical aptasensor for antibiotic residues detection based on dual recycling amplification strategy. Biosensors and Bioelectronics, 82, 49–54.
- Weston, M., Geng, S., & Chandrawati, R. (2021). Food Sensors: Challenges and Opportunities. Advanced Materials Technologies, 6(5), 2001242.
- Kannan, S. K., Ambrose, B., Sudalaimani, S., Pandiaraj, M., Giribabu, K., & Kathiresan, M. (2020). A review on chemical and electrochemical methodologies for the sensing of biogenic amines. Analytical Methods, 12(27), 3438–3453.
- Groom. (2022). Why water testing is the next big diagnostic challenge—MedCity News. https://medcitynews.com/2022/02/why-water-testing-is-the-next-big-diagnostic-challenge/
- Shukla, D. (2019). Novel Technologies For Environmental Monitoring And Control. Electronics For You. https://www.electronicsforu.com/technology-trends/novel-technologies-environmental-monitoring-control
- Mitchell. (2015, July 23). Food Safety Roundup: Three Sensing Technologies for Detecting Hazards in Our Food—News. https://www.allaboutcircuits.com/news/food-safety-roundup-three-sensing-technologies-detecting-hazards-in-food/