We certainly like our chicken. According to USDA statistics, Americans ate around 84 pounds of chicken each during 2008, triple the amount eaten in 1960. Poultry production is clearly a huge industry, and one that's set to benefit from a new technology being developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which detects minute traces of chemical compounds that indicate spoilage. The goal is to give industry a fast, cost effective method of identifying foul fowl without damaging the product itself... and ultimately keeping consumers safe.
It's no secret that antibiotics and other chemical additives are commonly used to keep poultry from spoiling, but current methods of detecting when the chicken is spoiled leave room for improvement. These tests, which rely on detecting volatile organic compounds created when lipids and/or proteins decompose, are both invasive and time-consuming.
The new technique developed by NIST research chemists Tom Bruno and Tara Lovestead looks at difficult to detect trace amounts of low volatility compounds that are present early in the decay process.
This is achieved by sampling the air above a test sample using a method known as cryoadsorption. A short alumina-coated tube cooled to very low temperatures absorbs any of six potential chemical markers that have been identified by the researchers, providing a method that is both non-invasive and flexible, so it can be used at any point in the supply chain.