Project description

Today, there are more than 10,000 chemicals – commonly referred to as ‘food additives’ – usually allowed and intensively used in food industry in order to enhance appearance, flavor, taste, color, texture, nutritive value and preservation. An estimated of 1000 dangerous chemicals are used under a “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) designation without authority’s approval or notification. Artificial food dye consumption has increased by 500% in the last 50 years, and children are the biggest consumers. Synthetic colorants (containing azo functional groups (N=N) and aromatic ring structures), as important food additives, have been widely used to replace natural food color in thousands of products because of their low production costs, excellent color uniformity, as well as high stability during preparation processes. Sunset Yellow (SY) – FCF (E110), one of the famous synthetic dyes, is commonly found in: beverages, foods, cosmetics and medicines. The controversies concerning the use of SY dates back to the 1920s, when its consumption was related with hyperactivity, hypersensitivities, learning problems, and negative effects on cellular immune responses in children. In the last years increasing evidence indicates that the abuse of such dye may cause severe adverse health effects including: altering reproductive and neurobehavioral parameters, decreasing thymus weight, and changing monocyte counts, allergies, migraines, eczema, anxiety, diarrhea, even cancer]. In order to regulate food quality and provide safety assurances for consumers, appropriate and effective methods to detect SY are indispensable. Along time, several analytical methods such as spectrophotometry, high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), capillary electrophoresis, column chromatography, or differential pulse polarography have been applied for the single or simultaneous determination of SY. All these methods have some major drawback since they take a lot of time; require sophisticated instrumentation and high skilled man-power, high costs and laborious pre-treatment of the samples. Even more, the identification and quantification of this synthetic colorant in food and beverage products is difficult, being complicated by the variety of interferences and mixtures of different colors. Thus, electrochemical methods seem to be a valuable alternative solution, competing as a promising application tool for food analysis due to their portability, high sensitivity and selectivity, automation, fast analysis and low cost of equipment.

Starting from the idea that “We are are what we eat” the PORTA-SYD project targets to forge from scratch a miniaturized portable electronic device adapted for sensitive and selective SY electrochemical detection from commercially available food and drink products. The synergy between sensors technology and nanomaterials science is expecting to bring interesting advantages in the field of new electrochemical platforms, to solve the above mentioned drawbacks by embedding of modified electrodes in complex architectures, and to offer an innovative SY detection solution.

A major outcome of the project proposal will be the increase of knowledge in the sensor area, since graphene-based electrochemical sensors find feasibility where extremely high sensitivity is needed. In addition, it aims to increase the population awareness, precaution and prevention towards the danger of toxic food colorant consumption.

The fabrication of new modified electrodes, their integration into complex architectures, the design and testing of a prototype electrochemical selective detection platform and the miniaturization at realistic costs, are the major challenges faced by the industry, and represent the ultimate goal of PORTA-SYD project proposal.