Research on BioSensor (1)

1. Article: What are Biosensors?

Biological sensor is made up of a transducer and a biological element that may be an enzyme, an antibody or a nucleic acid. The bioelement interacts with the analyte being tested and the biological response is converted into an electrical signal by the transducer. Depending on their particular application, biosensors are also known as immunosensors, optrodes, resonant mirrors, chemical canaries, biochips, glucometers and biocomputers.

A commonly cited definition of a biosensor is:

“A chemical sensing device in which a biologically derived recognition is coupled to a transducer, to allow the quantitative development of some complex biochemical parameter.”

Every biosensor comprises:

  • A biological component that acts as the sensor
  • An electronic component that detects and transmits the signal

2. Diagram from Rapid Detection of Food Adulterants and Contaminants: Theory and Practice By Shyam Narayan Jha




3. Article: Application of Biosensors in the food industry.

  • Enzyme biosensors based on the inhibition of cholinesterase enzymes are used to detect traces of organophosphates and carbamates from pesticides that may be present as poisonous and harmful residues on farm produce.
  • Some microbial sensors are selective and sensitive in the detection of ammonia and methane.
  • Biological oxygen demand (BOD) analyzers use a bacteria such as Rhodococcus erythropolis immobilized in collagen or polyacrylamide. These devices are widely used to test the quality of waste water. BOD biosensors can analyze 2 to 20 samples every hour.
  • Biosensors may be used to measure carbohydrates, alcohols, and acids in fermented foods. The devices are mainly used for quality control processes in food production. The devices, however, need to be kept sterile, frequently calibrated and require analyte dilution. Enzyme-based biosensors can be used in food quality control to measure amino acids, amides, amines, carbohydrates, heterocyclic compounds, carboxylic acids, gases, inorganic ions, cofactors, alcohols and phenols. Biosensors can also be used in the assessment and analysis of produce such as wine, beer and yoghurt.
  • In food quality assessment, antibodies or immunosensors may be used in assays to detect small molecules such as water-soluble vitamins and chemical contaminants. They may also be used to detect any pathogenic organisms present in meat, poultry, eggs, and fish.

4. BOOK : Food Biosensors | edited by Minhaz Uddin Ahmed, Mohammed Zourob, Eiichi Tamiya

Terminology : Point of Care technologies (POC). For example, SciO is an optical POC technology. Electronic tongue for liquid sample and Electronic noses for gas.

2.3.2 Food Biosensing in Developing regions.

Use paper due to its low cost, high surface area, biocompatibility, flexibility, disposability, small volume of reagents required for analysis,

Colorimetric paper-based devices: Spot test (static) and lateral/vertical flow (dynamic)


The possibility of creating hydrophilic patterns ( using wax printing,e.g) enables the fabrication of several test zones for different analytes in the same device, which increase the reliability of this tool

RFID biosensors : inductive-capacitive (LC) antenna circuit that reacts to an interrogative signal emitted by a detection coil and send back a resonant frequency signal dependent on the capacitances and inductance of the sensor

Biosensing systems are becoming more portable and user-friendly. In our opinion, this trend will continue, and smaller, less expensive devices able to perform multicomponent analysis will reach the market

5. Article: Novel Biosensors could detect food contaminants by Joe Withworth

6. Examples:



ORLA : Multi-channel SAW Biosensor for multiple diagnoses

There is a need for rapid, simple and low-cost point of care tests for respiratory viruses. Our technology enables SAW technology to be used to its full potential with biological samples and the resulting devices are able to detect disease antigens in samples from serum, urine, or saliva. The biochips translate antibody-antigen binding events from samples into an electronic signal, successfully combining rapid disease diagnosis with inbuilt wireless connectivity.


Researchers from Stratophase, a firm out of Southampton, United Kingdom, just published a paper in journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, describing the technology inside their SpectroSens chip, a new optical micro device designed to rapidly detect pathogens and biochemicals. The chip can be loaded into a robust device to simultaneously identify 16 different potential health threats like anthrax and ricin toxin.


There is a need for robust disposable sensor systems that are easy to use and manufacture. Application areas could be point of care, food safety, environmental monitoring and agriculture.


Existing concepts

1. SciO – Consumer physics.

images from link

It is the world’s first affordable molecular sensor that fits in the palm of your hand. SCiO is a tiny spectrometer and allows you to get instant relevant information about the chemical make-up of materials around you, sent directly to your smartphone.

2. Nitrate (NO3) counter – SOEKS

images from link

3. Kuaiso: smart chopstick – Baidu

images from link


The smart chopsticks, called Kuaisou, can test food for safety issues. It’s limited to sampling the oil to detect dangerously substandard cooking oil – one of all too many food safety issues plaguing China – but it’s still an interesting and practical tool

3. Food origins tracking device – Nguyen Thi Hong Minh

link: this-62-year-old-vietnamese-entrepreneur-is-using-foodtech-to-eat-safer

An electronic traceability system for Vietnam’s farmers and consumers 

How it works is farmers and the processors, the middle men who buy from producers, log information such as product origins and how it was processed into TraceVerified’s software. The data, which is compiled into TraceVerified’s first product “TraceReport,” is accessible via QR codes on product packaging — which consumers scan using a mobile app.

Vietnam’s water pollution crisis showed how little transparency exists 

TraceReport will help farmers build product credibility over time 

4.Quick-test kit – Vietnam government

kit 15types pour-water testing

Aesthetics study


From previous posts, I am currently situating my product as an amalgamation between a kitchen appliance and a medical device.

On one hand, it has to be fitting in the kitchen and integrated into part of the cooking process, so as to achieve convenience and efficiency. On the other hand, it has to work like a medical device that accurately detects the presence of dangerous substances in food.

As such, the product would have characteristics from both of its origins. I also realize many of the characteristics are shared by kitchen appliance and a medical device, although they could vary slightly in terms of importance. These characteristics should be communicated through the conceptual design, form of the device, its materials and finishes…etc

Therefore, I went on to study the characteristics of current products that is conveyed through its form and choice of material.

Aesthetics Study on existing kitchen products

Group 1: this group of kitchen appliance uses industrial aesthetics to convey robustness and hygiene. The use of stainless steel is for food safety and it also conveys sterility, power and accuracy.

The forms are mostly geometric and is highly functional.

This appeals to those with very high regard for hygiene and perhaps have higher income, since they are more expensive than group 2


Group 2: this group uses a variety of plastic with varying strength and appearance. In this group, more expensive plastics like HDPP and ABS are safe for food and can withstand high temperature.

The use of plastics allows for different finishes and colors, which gives this group a more lively and friendly character than group 1. This group seems to be more understandable and relatable with simple functions and simpler forms. Forms can be more organic because injection molding process gives more design freedom.

I feel that this group would speak for the majority and it is affordable for more users, making it more utilitarian.


Group 3: this group goes for uniqueness and styles, as it usually has unique form, texture, and colors. Many of these are not mass-manufacturing friendly, hence resulting in high cost of products. Some of them are also trend-specific, for example, the retro trend is visible from Smeg’s series with rounded tapered form.

This tends to a bespoke direction which speaks to very specific users who have a strong preference of what they like. They could also be kitchen/cooking enthusiasts who do not mind spending money for a highly differentiated product.

I think this direction is not what we are looking for


Aesthetics Study on medical devices

After researching a few medical devices, I realise that information mapping and communication is a vital part.

Most of the time, patients are heavily dependent on those device to do the checking job for them. They do not possess the knowledge of how these devices work. As such, they rely entirely on the device to communicate their health status.

This scenario is the same as what happens in my project. Consumers do not know the chemistry knowledge in any of the tests. They rely entirely on the device to tell them whether the food is safe.

In such scenario, communication has to be simple and on point. In the devices below, we see that only one statistic is shown to the patient, which is what he needs to know. The critical information is displayed in large font and clearly distinguished from others. The interfaces are simplified, unnecessary functions are removed to reduce clusters of information and hence minimize failure.


Most medical devices stick with grays, muted colors and white is always the dominant color. This is to convey sterility and reliability. Also, strong colors may induce anxiety, which is not desired in the medical context. Many personal devices are handheld.

Many personal devices are handheld and quite compact. Recently, many devices have been connected to smartphones, providing an extra interface where more information can be communicated.


Food journey and the kitchen setting

When to check for adulteration?

After changing my idea from an on-the-go detector to a home-based device that is a part of the cooking process, I did a quick study of the different stages that food goes through in the kitchen.

I realize that the later adulteration is detected in this journey, the more effort is wasted on all the steps before realizing it should not be eaten.

As such, I have decided that my product would be integrated to the kitchen within the first few stages of cooking. Those stages are unpacking food purchased from the market, washing the food and storing them. Storage is optional because some people would cook the food immediately while some may fridge it for later use.

Within this few stages, there are a few opportunities for intervention which I will discuss in a later post.

Where is my device placed in the kitchen?

Kitchen work triangle concept


image from link

The kitchen work triangle is a concept used to determine efficient kitchen layouts. The primary tasks in a home kitchen are carried out between the cook top, the sink and the refrigerator. These three points and the imaginary lines between them, make up what kitchen experts call the work triangle. The idea is that when these three elements are in close (but not too close) proximity to one other, the kitchen will be easy and efficient to use, cutting down on wasted steps.

Based on this concept, I imagine my device would be placed somewhere in between the sink and the refrigerator because it is to be used within the unpacking, food washing and storing.



Product Inspirations (1)

1. Rotimatic – designed by Zimplistic

image from link

This product is an automatic roti making kitchenware. It simplifies and automates each step of traditional roti making process by using computer algorithms.

This product offers an on-demand approach as compared to the traditional batch making approach. Roti is made one at a time. A precise number of units are produced as needed. Small quantity suits household size.

Learning points:
  • The compartments: my device can utilize the same compartment for both testing and storing of food items bought from the market, integrating testing into food preparation process.rotimatic
    image from link
  • Convenience: automated process with little involvement, leading to efficiency. It only takes about a minute to churn out one roti. This suits households with a busy lifestyle. Detachable parts allow easy washing and maintenance.
  • Cleanliness: use white color, high-density ABS (food-safe plastic), non-sticky surfaces, transparent plastic. These visual quality allows visibility to see through the ingredients and emphasizes the absence of contaminants.
  • Simplicity: Simple interfaces, the possibilities of action is reduced to minimize human mistakes and hence avoid system failure.

2. Ultra Clean Washer (Pen) – Electrolux


image from link


This device works as an addition accurate stain removal process before the clothes are dropped into the washing machine. It uses technology that combines water and ultrasound to effectively remove stains on garments. The pen is docked on the washing machine. It only works when needs arise. It works for small to medium stain area.dock

Learning points:
  • handheld device for spot checking could be part of the system, this integration has to add value to the larger system.
  • device use very simple interface with minimal steps.
  • handheld device allows for agility and mobility.

3. Cleanwave sanitizing wand – Verilux


image from link

image from link

The CleanWave Sanitizing Wand uses the same advanced UV-C light technology used to sanitize hospital equipment for over 30 years. User simply scans the surface area with the UV-C light on. The product promises to kill up to 99.9%** of germs, allergens and odor causing bacteria on hard surfaces.

This product is handheld and runs on rechargeable battery. Some product features include:

  • Simple one-button operation and easy-to-read digital display
  • Safety shut-off feature guards against unwanted exposure to eyes or skin
  • Built-in timer allows for precise exposure times
Learning points:
  • this product works in a similar fashion with project, but it goes a step further by actually killing / removing the unwanted bacteria.
  • handheld devices should be ergonomically designed ( this product doesn’t look comfortable in the video)
  • probably applicable as a adulterant scanners for those that are detectable using light.

Research Documentation | Summary of phase 1


This post includes research information that was presented at the 2nd presentation and other pieces that were left out due to time constraint. Simple explanations are included with links to separate posts on each matter.


Survey result: consumer base.


In this activity, 120 short surveys were conducted at various locations (survey questions can be found here)

The only criterion for selection is that participant has to be the person in charged of purchasing groceries for the household. Participants were selected at random with no preference of age, gender or appearance.

Result from these surveys is compiled here

Q1 – Q2 : What is your sex and age?


Q3/4/5: Do you have a smartphone / use 3G / use the Internet frequently ( >12hrs/week) (Y/N)


Q6: How often do you buy and cook different kinds of groceries?


Q7: Where do you usually get your groceries from?


Q8: Rate 3 most important factors in selecting vendors to buy from.


Q9: Rate 3 most important factors in deciding which food to buy for the day.


Q10 / 11: How are you aware / is your knowledge of the food adulteration problem? (self-assessment)


Q12: Where do you get your information on adulteration from?


Q13: What do you think are most challenging to tackle food adulteration (choose 3)?


Literature research: Adulterants severity scoring according to food type




Observation & Shadowing

ossslide-12 ossslide-13


ossslide-14 ossslide-15 ossslide-16 ossslide-17

Field Trip Planning (1)

After reading different research on food adulteration, I realise the situation is slightly different from countries to countries. While the ones I have been reading on ( China, India, Bangladesh) could be classified together into emerging countries, their situations slightly differ from one another.

Most significantly, the food involved in adulteration differs from one country to another. This is due to the cultural, culinary and taste difference. Also, particular buying practices influence the choice-making process and open up opportunities for adulterated food to enter the market. (Separate post on compare/contrast)

As such, following some of their research method, I decided to conduct a field trip to understand the issue better in my project context: Vietnam. I’m going back to Can Tho city (my hometown) from the 9 – 13th September. On the 10,11 and 12th, I will go on to conduct interviews and observe the behaviour of buyers in markets and supermarkets (main sources of groceries for people staying in the city)

INTERVIEW QUESTIONs (aim to get 50-70 respondents in 3 days)

Location: Can Tho city


image from :

Market: Tan An market, Xuan Khanh market


Supermarket: Coopmart, Big C 

Green-grocer stores: some store promising safe and green produce are popping up around the city. Can make some quick visit.

User profile

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education level
  • Income
  • Tech-savvy (owning a smartphone? using internet?)

Buying behaviour

  • Frequency of purchase (daily/2-3times weekly/weekly/monthly)
  • Where do they usually buy groceries (order of frequency): market, supermarket, wholesale, straight from farm/supplier, online?
  • What do they consider when buying (rate importance): appearance? Price? Relationships with vendor (trust)? Freebies? Availability of the food they are looking for? Accessibility of the place?

Knowledge of food-adulteration

  • How well do you know about food adulteration (don’t know, heard of, read frequently, know very well)
  • Where do you get your information from (online, newspaper, word-of-mouth, own experience)
  • Any recent suspicion/experience of food adulteration (personal experience) in the past 3 months?
  • How do you make sure the food you buy is safe?
  • What do you do when you find out the vendor adulterate the food?


  • Buying process: from start to end
  • Environment studies: food market/supermarket (how food is displayed/how they are selected and purchased/packaging/payment/how the crowd is like?/peak hour?)
  • Behaviours: common practices / any idiosyncrasies
  • How do people choose which food to buy/which store to buy from?
  • What do they carry?
  • How do they make payment?
  • Attitude towards food-adulteration
  • Packaging type
  • Level of assurance? (suggested by Peer)

Case study: China (based on media reports)

Research article: Economically motivated food fraud and adulteration in China: An analysis based on 1553 media reports by Wenjing Zhang, Jianhong Xue


  1. The authors studied 1553 media reports in China for this research.

Why using media reports?

In general, people pay more attention to acute food-borne illnesses that are severe and requires immediate medical treatment. However, most illnesses caused by consumption of adulterated food have few symptoms and only take effect after a long period of time. Also, in this case of economically motivated adulterations (EMA), wrongful acts are intentional and designed to evade investigation. As such, adulterated food-borne illnesses are often underreported to authorities.

In addition, previous literature suggests that many adulteration incidents and scandals in China were initially discovered by media reports rather than official surveillance.

Reflection: this seems to be the same case in Vietnam. Government efforts to QC the supply chain are usually sporadic and there is little communication with consumers about the findings. The issue is made public and contentious by media coverage and news agency rather than government bodies.

Food for thought: Power of the masses? The importance of information dissemination?

  1. Results and discussion:
  • Regional distribution: Regions with higher level of industrialization and urbanization has the highest number of cases while least developed areas have the least number of cases (fig.1)


  • Types of adulteration: There are 8 types of food fraud defined by EMA database, and the percentage of these types from media reports. Intentional distribution of contaminated food and Artificial Enhancement are the top leading types (table 2&3)


  • Food involved: most commonly adulterated food is Animal Foods (37.8%), followed by grain-based food (22.7%) and drink/beverages (12.8%). Research includes further breakdown of cases into sub food category.


  • Adulterants: top adulterants are additives (35.9%) including forbidden additives (23.2) and food additives, followed by foreign substances (11.2). the purposes of using these substances as adulterants were either to replace legally allowed additives to save costs (e.g., formaldehyde, nitrite and DEHP), to change color, appearance, or texture of foods (e.g., the uses of sulfur dioxide, Sudan red, fluorescent bleacher, DEHP, alum, talcum powder), or to keep counterfeit foods or adulteration from detection (e.g., the use of melamine and beef extract).


  • Food source:


Food for thought: What about VN? What are the most commonly adulterated food and how much do they affect? How do they get adulterated? Where do these things happen?