If you've ever suffered from any kind of food poisoning you'd understandably see the genius in this little device. Engineers at UCLA have created a prototype scanner that attaches to your smartphone camera and checks out that great looking burger to make sure you're in the clear from E. coli.
The phone attachment essentially turns your phone into portable fluorescent microscope that light up the harmful bacteria like a Black Sabbath poster under a black light.
The camera attachment works using quantum dots as a type of semiconductor that illuminates certain proteins in the E. coli in the capillaries of meat samples you wish to test. Scientists have used similar fluorescent technologies to test for E coli on a larger scale but this device, if successful, would put a portable device in the hands of consumers.
With 3,000 to 4,000 reported cases of E. Coli in the U.S. alone every year the implications of detecting the bacteria before a person gets sick could be a huge public health win. It also would be a gift to travelers who have the potential to pick up a bug while on the road.
If the current prototype can detect E. coli, perhaps future models can scan for a wider spectrum of bacteria such as salmonella. Another improvement would be to be able to use the device to scan food items other than meat as often E. Coli is found in unwashed vegetables.
Still, should even the current prototype make it to store shelves, it will go a long way to letting us feel confident about the food we eat.