Smart biosensor detects bacteria

Startup Alberts has developed the very first smoothie machine in the world that makes your favorite smoothie, soup or vegan shake from fresh fruits and vegetables at the touch of a button. But how do you make sure the risk of contamination of your smoothie is as minimal as possible? One of the reasons why Alberts participated in a study of the development of a biosensor with which food can be tested – cheaply and quickly – for possible bacterial contamination during the production process.

Food safety is a hot topic. This also links to one of the main themes at Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo. Nothing is more sensitive than our daily food. All the more reason to minimize the risks and detect possible contaminants in food as quickly as possible. Companies like Alberts now send samples to specialized laboratories at fixed times. But this is a time-consuming and expensive method: it sometimes takes up to a week before the results are known. It is therefore not excluded that certain pollutants are not detected in time, which means that there is a high risk of recall. With reputational damage and financial loss as a result.

The demand for a system that can detect bacteria during the production process is great. Maastricht University, KU Leuven and Hasselt University have developed sensor technology that makes this possible. In the innovation project agrEUfood, Dutch and Belgian researchers and companies are working with Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo on a biosensor that uses a synthetic recognition layer (receptor) to detect, in this case, a bacterium. By integrating this sensor into a machine in which a fresh product is manufactured, any contamination can be quickly detected and resolved.

According to Kasper Eersels, assistant professor of sensor technology at Maastricht University, it is possible with this biosensor to know within two to three hours whether your product is free of bacteria. “The sensor must of course know which bacteria it must detect. In this project, the focus is on the E-coli bacteria. But once we have made this biosensor work, we can also switch to other applications. The type of bacteria you detect can adapted, which means that in the future this technology can also be used in horticulture, for example, to detect bacteria in fruit and vegetables. “

Glenn Mathijssen

Smoothie robot
A laboratory version of the biosensor has now been made, which is now being tested at, among others, the company Alberts in Wijnegem, Belgium, near Antwerp. This start-up has developed the world’s first smoothie machine that makes personal, fresh smoothies based on pure fruits, vegetables and water. With this machine, the founders Glenn Mathijssen and Stefan Maas want to make it easy for the user to choose healthier food and develop better eating habits. There are already more than ten machines in Belgium, and about thirty more are in production. In addition to smoothie machines, there are also vending machines for hot soups and vegan snacks.

Health is the main motivation for starting up in everything they do, Glenn Mathijssen explains: “Vegetables and fruit are good for human, but we eat only 9% of the recommended daily amount of fruit. For vegetables, this percentage is even lower by 3%. Eating an apple, orange or spinach leaf is not sexy and practical enough, so we were looking for a solution where we – literally – can put healthy food in someone’s mouth. With the blends our machine makes, fully tailored to your taste profile, we make eating easier and more fun. “

Photo right: Kasper Eersels

Extra layer of security
The smoothie machine is filled with frozen fruit and vegetables, so the freshness – and thus the vitamins and minerals – is guaranteed. You put together your own smoothie via an app or choose from 6 preset smoothies with fresh fruit and / or vegetables. Once the choice is made, you can see live how the smoothie is made. The machine is completely self-cleaning, which means that the risk of contamination is zero.

However, because fresh products are used, the risk, according to Glenn, is somewhat higher than, for example, products that are pasteurized. “We will use this biosensor to build an extra layer of safety in our machine. You measure on the spot if your product is free of bacteria. If something is wrong, the machine stops automatically. As an entrepreneur you can watch in real time and – if necessary – is – to intervene immediately. Another advantage of this sensor is that we can also better find out where the problem started and act. “

Purification water
The biosensor is not yet literally in a working Albert machine. “We are now testing it first in the cleaning water of our machine. The first results are very good: the sensor does what it is supposed to and signals bacteria. Only these bacteria are completely harmless and give no problems. So now we have to go back to the drawing board to find out why the sensor gives this so-called ‘false positive’: a result that is false positive. We will definitely continue the research in the biosensor. “

According to Glenn, the first tests also provide a good insight into how the machine works. “No E-coli bacterium was found in all the tests. We are very happy about that because it is the bacterium that causes the most problems. This means that the self-cleaning mechanism of our machine works excellently. Our dream of using these “machines make the world a little healthier become more realistic every day. I imagine a future where our healthy vending machine is standard next to the soda and snack vending machine in schools, hospitals and sports clubs.”

Source: Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo

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