Mini 'poker' gives instant info on produce nitrate levels

The device will show a green screen if the number of nitrates in the produce is within its normal range.
The device will show a green screen if the number of nitrates in the produce is within its normal range.

To support growing populations, modern farming has adopted practices that involve spraying crops with chemicals to achieve a larger yield faster. However, the chemicals do not disappear after the crop has been taken out of the ground, and consuming excessive amounts of these elements could be potentially dangerous for humans and to the environment.

Greentest, a handheld device created by Anmez, is able to determine within seconds the number of nitrates present in vegetables and fruits. Users 'poke' the food stuff they want to test with the small pin at the end of the device.

The company says it is also able to measure water hardness and background radiation, and the device can be used on meat.

Previously, to get these results, scientists would have to test the product in a laboratory. This was expensive and took a lot of time.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests the maximum daily intake of nitrates is 3.7mg per one kilogram of body weight. However, the nitrate count is not required to be listed on food packaging.

"Nitrates occur naturally in our fruits and vegetables; a small amount isn't harmful, but our body converts an excess of nitrates into nitrites. And when nitrites get into the stomach, the acidic conditions may cause it to form nitrosamine, which is carcinogenic and may be seriously harmful to our health," says Dr Robertusvan Schie, a Dutch medical scientist.

"According to the WHO, we currently ingest 10 times more nitrites than the recommended amount. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a good thing, but you can't see the healthiest one by just looking at the outside."

Every country has standard screening for pesticides, while Europe also has screening for the number of nitrates present in produce. South Africa has its own food safety and quality assurance guidelines in place but does not screen for nitrates.

Greentest is able to determine the number of nitrates by measuring the electrical conductivity of the produce.

"The proprietary Greentest algorithm accurately calculates the specimen's nitrate content by comparing its electrical conductivity against a database obtained from exhaustive mass spectrometer testing of similar specimens under laboratory conditions," says Anmez.

The company says the accuracy of Greentest measurements on nitrate content is 90%. This accuracy has been certified through testing by international laboratories and specialised institutions.

To use the device, users select which vegetable or fruit product they will be testing from the menu on the touch-screen display. The screen will display what the normal range of nitrates is commonplace for the particular item.

The user pokes the fresh food product and waits up to three seconds for analysis. The screen will then turn either green, yellow or red. Green stands for a normal amount found, yellow for above average and red for dangerous levels.

It also has a feature that measures the radioactivity in the environment it is used. This will take up to 10 seconds and is able to detect radiation from cellphones, computers and surroundings.

It is meant to be used by the general consumer, as well as restaurant owners who want to do quality control, and supermarket owners.

The device weighs 90g and runs on a 720 m?h Li-Ion battery which charges via a USB connection. One charge will give up to 20 hours of usage time.

The device is connected to an app on smartphones.

Greentest was created by Russian developers in Hong Kong and is being sold in Asia, Europe and America. It is currently looking for distributors in new markets such as South Africa.

Read time 3min 20sec
Lauren Kate Rawlins
ITWeb digital and innovation editor.

Lauren Kate Rawlins is the digital and innovation editor at ITWeb. She made the move to online journalism after a stint with broadsheets in Durban. She now writes about the different ways businesses are embracing digital transformation, how small start-ups are disrupting big industry, and how the machines are slowing taking over. She investigates the far flung corners of the web and interrogates the algorithms our social lives revolve around. She researches emerging technologies and puts into words how 21st century living, more and more, resembles a scene in a science fiction novel.

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