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A "freshness sniffer" has been developed by CASIC"s Beijing Institute of Radio Metrology and Measurements. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Researchers at China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, the nation"s largest missile-maker, have turned their expertise to designing and producing a handheld gadget meant for homemakers and other food market shoppers.

The small "freshness sniffer", as the developers at CASIC"s Beijing Institute of Radio Metrology and Measurements call it, is an electronic device that determines the freshness of meat you are about to buy or cook. It"s based on sensor and measurement technologies long employed in missiles and space equipment.

"It can tell you whether the meat is fresh, or not so fresh and needs to be cooked well, or if it has already become spoiled," said Niu Ye, an engineer at the institute who is in charge of the product"s development. "You open the device and an application on your mobile phone and then place the device very close to the meat for about 10 seconds."

The "freshness sniffer" is connected with the mobile phone via Bluetooth. It detects and measures the presence of ammonia and volatile organic compounds to determine bacteriological activity in uncooked meat. Then it analyzes the results to judge the meat"s freshness and displays its verdict on the phone.

The gadget can be used with almost every kind of meat-including pork, beef, mutton, chicken and even fish-Niu said. The first version of the device is 80 to 90 percent accurate, and further upgrades of the hardware and app will increase the accuracy.

Currently, consumers generally judge meat"s freshness by its smell and appearance, he said.

However, "it"s not so hard for an immoral vendor to trick consumers" noses and eyes. And, unfortunately, it"s not so easy for us to determine whether a piece of meat has begun to spoil, especially at the beginning of the process," Niu said.

The product could be particularly useful to consumers purchasing meat from unlicensed vendors, which is common in rural areas, and those who forget to put fresh meat in the refrigerator after buying it, or who want to cook a piece of meat that has been in the refrigerator for a long time, said Liu Changwen, another of the gadget"s designers.

The "freshness sniffer" is the first device of its kind developed by Chinese engineers, though there are a handful of similar products available in foreign markets. The institute intends to soon mass-produce the device and promote it on the domestic market, Liu said.