Introducing zNose — the Electronic Nose that Could Combat Oil Adulteration

Dec 02 2017 Read 1363 Times

When it comes to sniffing out something fishy, the human nose is right up there as one of the best devices. It has had millions of years of evolution to fine tune its various olfactory cells — allowing humans the ability to detect odour molecules at unimaginable limits. But sometimes the human nose is not enough — and even man’s best friend cannot always be relied upon — then technology can help.

And when it comes to detecting smelly problems, chromatography can be relied on to find things that evolution cannot help with. A company based in California —Electronic Sensor Technology — has developed systems that use gas chromatography to help detect smelly problems in all kinds of different applications. One recent problem that was solved was detecting adulterated oils — say hello to zNose.

Electronic noses — not to be sniffed at

To be fair to humans, electronic noses are not necessarily better than a trained person at detecting problems with some samples. But, they are much more convenient as we cannot always have an expert sniffer on hand to detect suspicious odours.

Electronic noses have brought some rigour to the science of smell. They are essentially a device that can identify and measure the various components in an odour. The advantage over a human nose is that each human nose is slightly different — we all have different sensitivities to the molecules that are detected by the receptors in our olfactory system — electronic noses detect and analyse what is present without human bias. 

Fast and portable

And as technology has improved, the devices have become smaller and more portable. Modern devices like the zNose are simple to use and handle. They rely on gas chromatography alongside software and a detector to rapidly detect and analyse chemical, environmental and food samples in the field, spotting problems like adulteration and harmful odours.

Of course, gas chromatography is ideal for analysing volatile samples as discussed in the article, A New Method for Fast Residual Solvents Analysis and Untargeted Unknown Identification Faster Sample Throughput and Shorter GC Runtimes Using GC-VUV and Static Headspace.

Something fishy about this oil

The technology is used in many different fields and has recently been demonstrated as a solution to spotting food adulteration — in this case palm oil. Like many commodities that make money, palm oil is open for exploitation by unscrupulous vendors and manufacturers looking to make a bigger and faster profit. Adulterants in palm oil include dyes, rancid oils — ingredients that can cause unpleasant symptoms when eaten, some adulterants are even toxic.

Electronic Sensor Technology used the zNose to demonstrate how electronic noses can spot adulterants in palm oil. As well as spotting that the oil was adulterated, zNose was able to identify and quantify the adulterants. Proving once again the power of chromatography in keeping consumers safe in a world of adulterated food.

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