Air pollution like the smog that recently blanketed Beijing may be hard to avoid, but it is also hard to miss. Apart from the evidence of eyes and lungs, a growing amount of information is available from news media, smartphone apps and the web. But no monitoring station on the roof of the U.S. Embassy will tweet warnings about the melamine content in a carton of milk: useful information on food safety, one of China’s other major public health issues, is far harder to come by. The resulting uncertainty has fueled, for example, a massive gray market trade in baby milk formula bought at retail in countries as far-flung as New Zealand and the Netherlands [zh].
A new litmus-like indicator paper being developed at Tianjin University of Science and Technology may help. Its developers claim that the paper reacts to the presence of any of more than 60 contaminants including bacteria and drug residues, and anticipate huge demand for their testing kits once they come to market. From Xinhua:
Professor Wang Shuo, deputy principal of the university, said on Tuesday that food safety testing usually requires complex testing machines and procedures in laboratories. With this test paper, however, certain harmful substances can be identified in a few minutes.
[…] Wang said the research team has obtained 13 national patents for the test paper, and is working on further research to lower the production cost of the paper to make it more affordable for ordinary consumers.
He did not disclose the possible price of the paper.