"Hi-tech" chopsticks to detect tainted food in China
Baidu, China's foremost search engine, unveiled a prototype yesterday with sensors able to detect whether food was cooked in healthy or gutter oils as well as pH levels in water. The device might later test salinity levels. Meanwhile, food safety scandals continue across the country.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - At its annual developers' conference in Beijing, search engine Baidu showed off 'smart' chopsticks that could warn users if oils used in food were unsafe to eat, determine its pH levels in water, and eventually test its salinity. For Baidu's billionaire founder Robin Li, "This is a new way to sense the world."

Yesterday, the Internet giant unveiled a prototype of smart chopsticks as a possible weapon in the ongoing war for food quality control on the mainland.

Equipped with two sensors - one red and the other blue - the pair of chopsticks can detect whether the food it touches has been cooked with healthy or illegal gutter oils.

Kaiser Kuo, the technology firm's spokesman, said the battery-powered chopsticks were fitted with sensors that could test the acidity and temperature of oil.

The red sensor could also test for certain compounds to tell if a meal had been made with recycled cooking oil. The blue light indicates that the chopsticks' tips are detecting some other reading, for example, pH levels in water.

The current version of the chopsticks does not test salinity levels, Kuo said, but it was a feature they might add to the device later.

The concept of smart chopsticks was ready in April. However, because of growing consumer fears over food, Baidu has not decided whether to commercialise the product. Still, test results have been positive, Kuo explained.

In recent years, China has experienced many scandals in virtually every sector, from food to pharmaceuticals, involving low quality or tainted products.

The best known cases are that of melamine-tainted milk powder, which caused the deaths of at least six infants and made about 300,000 seriously ill; gelatine-injected shrimps; and poisonous toothpaste.

As it becomes increasingly linked to the economy of mainland China, even Taiwan has been affected by the problem.