GRACED – Next generation sensors for food quality monitoring

In the recently launched EU-project GRACED, AMO GmbH and partners exploit advanced nanophotonic-concepts to develop a modular system for monitoring the quality of fruits and vegetables along the entire value-chain.

In January 2021, AMO GmbH has started a project at first sight at odds with its usual interests. The project is called GRACED, and aims developing a technical solution for detecting contaminants at all stages of the value chain of the fruits and vegetables (F&V) industry. The connection between food-quality monitoring and AMO’s core expertizes is however apparent in the full title of the project: “Ultra-compact, low-cost plasmo-photonic bimodal multiplexing sensor platforms as part of a holistic solution for food quality monitoring”.

“The goal of the project is to exploit recent advances in the field of plasmo-photonic to develop a sensor capable of detecting multiple contaminants, quickly and in a cost-efficient way”, explains Dr. Anna Lena Giesecke, head of the Nanophotonic Group at AMO GmbH and partner of GRACED. “An important point is that the sensor has to be portable, so that it can be employed at any stage of the value-chain of fruits and vegetables –  from the production sites, to our tables.” Examples of contaminants to be detected are bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella, mycotoxines, or residuals of pesticides.

The project is directly linked to the objectives of the European Farm-to-Fork strategy,  and responds to the need of minimizing the risk of microbiological and chemical contamination in food industry.   Nowadays, inspections on fruits and vegetables are mostly carried out at the production site or at the food-processing facility, by testing random batches with laboratory techniques that can require two or more days before getting results. The time and cost per analysis lead to reduced inspections, and imply that these cannot take place in all parts of the value chain – especially not in supermarkets or restaurants, which are critical points since this is where consumers get their products.  GRACED aims to fill this gap by developing a modular solution for the early detection of contaminations in fruits & vegetables, based on advanced nanophotonics technique, Internet-of-Things concepts, and sophisticated data analytics.

AMO plays a central role into the project, leading the technical development of the plasmo-photonic sensor itself. “From the sensor point of view, we will exploit the fact that contaminants can cause a change of refractive index in a plasmonic waveguide if this is cladded with the appropriate receptor, and that even tiny changes be detected using a plasmo-photonic interferometer”, explains Giesecke. “With some of our partners we have already demonstrated an ultra-sensitive and extremely compact plasmo-photonic interferometer within the project PLASMOfab, which represents the starting point for the sensors envisioned by GRACED”.

The complete system will be tested in different production and distribution systems, including a) a conventional farming system in open-air farms in Italy, and the following food-processing steps for preparing cooked meals and frozen vegetable packages; b) a novel, urban-farming ecosystem in France, producing fruits and vegetables used in in-situ restaurants; c) a short value-chain agro-ecology model in France, with direct distribution from farmers to consumers & restaurants; d) a semi-automatic farm in Hungary, producing mushrooms distributed to supermarkets & wholesalers.

The project is coordinated by CyRIC – Cyprus Research and Innovation Centre (Cyprus), and it is an initiative of the Photonics Public Private Partnership. Project partners include: CyRIC – Cyprus Research and Innovation Centre (Cyprus), National Research Council (Italy), Tecnoalimenti S.C.P.A (Italy), Easy Global Market SAS (France), Bialoom Ltd (Cyprus), Mutitel (Belgium), Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique CNRS (France), Sous Les Fraises (France), Aristotle University of Thessalonini (Greece), Pour Une Agriculture Du Vivant (France), AMO GmbH (Germany), Pilze-Nagy Kereskedelmi Es Szolgaltato Kft (Hungary), ISS BioSense S.r.l. (Italy), Lumensia Sensors S.L. (Spain).

The project is funded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101007448.