Research Press Release

Technology: A pocket-sized device that can help prevent methanol poisoning

Nature Food

June 16, 2020

A palm-sized portable testing device paired with a smartphone app that can test methanol levels in alcoholic drinks is reported in a paper published in Nature Food. This system can allow consumers, distillers, law enforcement and healthcare workers to easily check alcoholic beverages for poisonous amounts of methanol, and potentially avoid lethal methanol poisoning.

Alcoholic beverages are sometimes intentionally contaminated with cheap methanol—up to 50 vol%—to increase profit and potency of the drink. Methanol can also accumulate in alcoholic drinks through improper brewing or distilling. From 2017–2019, there were 306 registered methanol poisoning outbreaks, affecting approximately 7,104 people and causing 1,888 fatalities. Ninety per cent of the poisoning outbreaks occurred in Asia. Currently, the gold standard for methanol testing is liquid chromatography, a laborat¬¬ory technique that separates and measures different types of chemical within a mixture. However, this method is time-consuming and expensive.

Andreas Güntner, Sotiris Pratsinis and colleagues developed an inexpensive, handheld, smartphone-compatible analyser for rapid methanol and ethanol detection. This model is based on a sensor the authors previously designed. When placed over an open container, the device uses a sensor that absorbs a vapour or gas sample from the beverage. It processes the methanol and ethanol at different speeds, allowing the two chemicals to be detected sequentially. The app then displays the methanol and ethanol levels and will include a warning if the methanol level is potentially harmful. To test the device’s accuracy, the authors spiked 89 alcoholic drinks with known levels of methanol. They found that the device detected methanol accurately for 107 days of consecutive use.


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