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Smart Home

Can smart-home tech stop a roommate from stealing your food?

Tips for turning your fridge into a fortress.

Getting your roommates to stop stealing your food can be harder than it sounds. Usually it involves awkward confrontations, time wasted labeling all your leftovers, or worse. Plus, if you live with a couple friends, you don't always know who is killing the Cap'n Crunch.

Smart home gadgets can help you avoid the usual annoyances of solving the case of the disappearing food -- either by catching the culprit or protecting your snacks. But can it really solve the problem altogether? Let's take a look at the options:

Hide a smart cam in the kitchen

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smart cameras are becoming more and more affordable, and brands like Ezviz will give you basic security features for as low as $60. Set up one of these smart cams behind the flower pot and find out which roommate is stealing your food. There's even two-way audio with some of their cameras, so you can call them out in the moment, if you're watching the livestream at the right instant.

The big problem with affordable smart cams is that they often don't include much cloud storage. That means you'll probably have to monitor the camera pretty regularly if you want to catch the culprit in the act.

Another potential concern, depending on your relationship with your roommates: installing a secret camera in your dorm or apartment will violate their privacy. Luckily, there are less intrusive options.

Get creative with security sensors

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Chris Monroe/CNET

It's a little pricier, but if you're living in a house with multiple friends, suggest pitching in to get a DIY security system (our recommendation is the $300 Abode, but there are more affordable options). It's a good idea in general to protect your property, but you can also commandeer a door/window sensor or motion detector to buff your pantry's security.

Especially if you have separate food storage spaces, a door/window sensor could tip you off when someone is rifling through your snacks. Similarly, a motion detector could tip you off when someone's raiding your room's mini fridge for a beer. Plus, neither of these gadgets will encroach on your roommates' privacy. And you won't have to closely monitor the devices, like you might with particular cameras.

Problem is, sensors will only give you basic info, like when people are opening your fridge or pantry -- not who is doing the opening.

Or try a drawer lock

OK, so you don't care who is stealing your food; you just want it to stop. You might not be able to do much in some circumstances, but dorm living often means food is stored in more creative places. If chip bags and cookies keep disappearing from your desk, you could transform a conventional drawer into a makeshift safe.

The $80 Smart Armor Cube is a simple gadget that secures one of your drawers for a retrofit safe. Sure, it's not an impenetrable metal box, and it won't help keep your whole fridge secure, but it should keep pesky roommates out of your snack stash.

It should be noted that the Smart Armor Cube is an Indiegogo project set for release this summer, so while it looks promising, you might want to wait for us to test how good it actually is before paying out for it.

Is an Amazon Dash more diplomatic?

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Richard Peterson/CNET

If the problem isn't your roommate stealing food, but shared foodstuffs running out at inopportune moments, maybe the solution isn't figuring out who to blame, but rather getting an Amazon Dash Button. That way, anytime someone finishes the orange juice, they can hit a button to order a refill automatically.

Of course, you probably don't want to get a Dash Button if you have kids around the apartment, or if your friends are prone to getting drunk and punching a random button fifty times.

So can you really turn your fridge into a fortress?

Not exactly. But you definitely can take affordable measures to catch roommates swiping your food. The bummer is, you'll still need to actually confront them about it, and none of the voice assistants on the market can moderate that conversation -- at least for now.