Foodsniffer EU FP7 Project

FOODSNIFFER PROJECT was funded by the EU under Grant Agreement number 318319

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Food Safety has become one of the major priorities of the EU, with impact in public health and economy. The seriousness with which the Food Safety issue is addressed in Europe is reflected in the stringent national legislations and EU directives that have been issued over the recent years. The numerous food scandals that have been occurred during the last decade have increased consumers’ awareness concerning food safety, leading to calls for tighter food safety controls. Currently, the tests for detection of harmful substances in food samples are performed by specialized analytical laboratories equipped with state-of-the art tools such as mass spectroscopy, gas- and liquid chromatography providing accurate results for hundreds of analytes in a single test. However, samples to be analysed should be transported to the labs and these techniques are expensive, they rely on highly-skilled personnel, while their turn-around time is between 24 to 48 hours. The delay between the food sampling and their analysis results has a serious financial impact on the food supply chain, since consignments and shipments are often delayed or put in quarantine while awaiting the results of food safety analyses. This is translated into additional cost of the produce due to storage and/or even further deterioration of its quality, reflected into further increase of its cost and more ramifications related to safety and public health. Therefore, a new solution able to a) rapidly verify with great precision and at a low cost the suitability of food and b) to deliver right away analytical data to a central location is needed. Such a solution would help to prevent or identify at the earliest possible stage any food safety threat outbreaks, and thereby massively reduce the impact in human health and associated financial costs.


The FOODSNIFFER project aims at the development of a holistic solution for the label-free detection of minute concentrations of harmful substances in food at the Point-of-Need (PoN). The FOODSNIFFER solution will be comprised of a miniaturized optoelectronic chip -able to simultaneously detect in short time a panel of harmful substances- packaged into a single-shot cartridge and a portable and easy-to-use reader. The chip will include an array of 10 appropriately functionalized interferometric sensors monolithically integrated on a miniaturized Si chip fabricated by mainstream silicon processing technologies. The handheld reader will be controlled through a custom produced smartphone application that can be operated by non-specialized personnel and would provide quantitative information about the concentration of the targeted analytes on the smartphone screen. Furthermore, the use of a smartphone will enable to relate the results to a specific inspection site through its GPS positioning system.

The FOODSNIFFER system would be the first high performance PoN system for the detection of harmful substances in any link of the food supply chain.The application targeted by FOODSNIFFER in order to prove the advantages and versatility of the proposed food safety chip, is the detection of specific pesticides, mycotoxins and allergens since the presence of these substances at concentrations higher than those defined in the regulations could have great impact on human health.



The main strategic objectives of the FOODSNIFFER project were:

  • The design and implementation of an all-silicon fully integrated spectroscopic optoelectronic platform based on Broad-Band Mach-Zehnder Interferometry (BB-MZI), which allows for the synchronous highly-sensitive label-free detection of several analytes. The chip will be manufactured by mainstream silicon technology integrating a complete photonic circuit with multiplexed light-sources, interferometric sensors, single mode waveguides, a spectrum analyser and a photodetector array onto a single silicon chip.
  • The design and implementation of an innovative disposable plastic cartridge that eliminates the need for any sample contact with the reader, and that performs the sample filtration, buffering, controlled sample transport, and sample holdup after analysis.
  • The development of a lightweight & low-cost reader which will be controlled by a smartphone, through a custom-produced application. This way, field findings are in real time transferred in a centralized database.
  • The application of FOODSNIFFER system in the label-free detection of certain pesticides, allergens and mycotoxins in food samples.

The FOODSNIFFER system would be the first high performance PoN system for the detection of harmful substances along the food supply chain on the spot and in real-time.


Within the last semester of the project, all pending tasks were finalized and all key objectives set in DoW were reached. In particular the achievements in the reporting period are:

  1. FOODSNIFFER chips: The final FOODSNIFEFR chips were successfully fabricated. Each FOODSNIFFER chip accommodates ten sensors each one of them comprised of an LED self-aligned to a broad-Band Mach-Zehnder Interferometer, a spectrum analyzer and a photodetector array. The FOODSNIFEFR chip is the first in worldwide scale chip that monolithically integrates all these individual electronic and photonic components in a chip area of 37mm2 and set the current state of the art. Each one of the ten sensors on the chip can be personalized for the detection of a dedicated analyte.
  2. Optimized on-chip immunoassays for all targeted analytes and their application on the FOODSNIFFER chip: Optimized immunoassays of all targeted analytes, namely pesticides mycotoxins and allergens were applied on to the FOODSNIFFER chips. The detection of all targeted analytes by applying the developed sample preparation protocols and the optimized assays was investigated and the detection limits achieved fulfil the specifications set by EU legislations.
  3. Realization and evaluation of the biochip interfacing circuits: The on-chip and off-chip fluidics were finalized and a fully operational disposable cartridge was demonstrated. The docking station for the electrical and fluidic interfacing of the biochip with the reader modules (readout electronics, pump) was developed.
  4. FOODSNIFFER reader: A miniaturized smartphone-controlled reader with footprint of A5 page was realized. The reader accommodate all the necessary modules to apply the bioanalytical protocol and is battery operated and allows operation at the Point-of-Need.
  5. Evaluation of FOODSNIFFER system at the laboratory: The complete FOODSNIFFER system has been applied in the detection of all categories of analytes envisioned at the beginning of the project namely pesticides, mycotoxins and allergens. In all cases the FOODSNIFFER system provided with analytical performance that cover the EC specifications in terms of LOD. Furthermore the multiplexed detection of three analytes in the sample was successfully demonstrated addressing the needs of the food industry. Finally the FOODSNIFFER system was also employed in the detection of analytes in real samples and the obtained results are in very good correlation with the ones obtained by the standard techniques used in the analytical laboratories.


Sketch of the envisaged FOODSNIFFER reader in use with a phone


This graphic depicts immunoanalysis on nano-scale, the diagram shows sensor and reference arms

The above graphic shows the different immunoassay formats explored by the project in order to optimise performance.

Here we show the excellent correlation achieved with the device and industry standard methods.
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