New Device Detects Microbes in Hand After Washing


Biochemical researchers made a device that can detect microbes that can still contaminate food and can cause disease even the person fished washing its hands. / Photo by: Alicjia via Pixabay


The Smithsonian Mag recently featured a new device developed by biomedical engineers that can detect distinct microbes on your hands that can cause foodborne illness.

This should be beneficial indeed especially for people who love eating out. Just consider how lax safety measures are in commercial kitchens or even in those in private companies that a simple notice to employees to “wash hands in the restroom before returning to work” is a reminder that is usually ignored. Christine Schindler and Dutch Waanders, who studied biomedical engineering at Duke University, thought so too.

Schindler said, “We thought, that’s crazy, there should be something that scans people’s hands to see if there’s any foodborne illness. We were just asking restaurants what they thought, and when people were saying that they’ve been waiting 10 years for a product like this, that’s when we left our jobs.”

They then started to research foodborne illnesses and eventually came up with a device called PathSpot last year. They have placed prototypes in restaurants early in January. The basic function of this new technology is a type of spectroscopy, as stated by Schindler.

It shows proprietary wavelengths through a tablet that bounces off microbes on the user’s hand and the reflection of the data is then received by the tablet’s camera. The light that is reflected is shown differently based on the shape of what was bounced off of it, including bacteria. The data is then placed into an algorithm that compares the wavelengths of this reflected light to different signatures of E. coli, salmonella, hepatitis A, and so on. This is then given an indication of red or green to show the presence or absence of contaminants. The device is mounted on the wall right next to the sink.

While the device’s efficacy might be put into question, the much bigger issue, according to Ben Chapman, associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina, is more with compliance. It is not so much that people don’t wash their hands before handling food or after using the toilet, rather, they are unaware that proper washing is quite important in ensuring that bacteria and other harmful elements don’t stay in one’s hands.