Author: Marielle Ramaekers
Food secrets uncovered with new tech
The future of scanning foods with a smart phone is near. Near-infrared scanners coupled with artificial intelligence can detect a wide area of compounds, bacteria, allergens and more, minimizing food spoilage and combating food fraud.
People increasingly want to know what is in their food and where it is coming from. Affordable, easy to use, real-time, small devices are developed to test for contaminations, nutritional value, vitamins, and food quality etc. These new devises allow for more frequent on-site testing. Some examples can be found here. A great example of such a device is the Tellspec device.
How Tellspec works
Tellspec is a small device that can measure the composition of many food compounds and more. For instance, you can scan to see if your French fries have acrylamide or if your fruit is sweet and the device can also be used for identification and authentication. The system uses artificial intelligence techniques to predict the results from spectra obtained by a near-infrared spectrometer.
To scan is simple: first you connect the scanner via Blue Tooth to your smart phone or tablet, then you hold the device against the product and press the button to scan. The result is shown on your smart phone in less than 5 seconds. The more data that is gathered in the cloud data-base, the more precise the outcomes will be.
Who can use it?
The Tellspec scanner is helpful for all actors along the value chain, helping to make informed decisions. Agricultural producers can benefit from testing for proteins, fats and moisture content to inform on how to optimize their harvest. Distributors and food processors benefit by ensuring that the raw materials they are buying are pure, not adulterated and are of high quality. Supermarkets and food retailers can minimize food spoilage by regularly testing the quality of fresh products, meat and fish. Restaurants need to ensure that their menu offerings are not contaminated with possible bacteria, like E. coli, or with allergens like gluten, that may cause their customers a serious reaction and, finally, the consumers want to know what exactly is in their food, especially in relation to allergies. However is is important to note that using Tellspec does not exempt from complying with current legislation.
A satisfied customer
Frederik Nieuwenhuijs, Quality Assurance Manager at Meelunie, is a very enthusiastic user of Tellspec. Meelunie is a global supplier of agricultural ingredients. Trading overseas in countries like China, they have to deal with food fraud and food contamination on a daily basis. Nieuwenhuijs explains that adding urea or melamine to products is a cheap but illegal way to enhance the nitrogen content of the product thereby fooling some of the quality tests done on these products.
Meelunie can now test more frequently for urea and melamine in the products they buy by using Tellspec, well before they actually buy the raw materials. So far, using Tellspec does not create more profit, but they can sensure safety of their products. “Such devices are becoming increasingly important for the future,” according to Nieuwenhuijs.
Isabell Hoffman, founder and CEO of Tellspec, says they are currently working to get their device integrated in smart phones. Imagine!! Wherever you are, either in a supermarket, restaurant or at home, you can test foods for allergens, harmful bacteria or other substances.
This article was adjusted from 'Smart devices impacting our ways of living' that was written for the Trends and Technology campaign of the EU funded KATANA project.
About the founder
Isabell Hoffmann is a very successful entrepreneur. She started founding companies at the age of 19 and since then many successful companies have followed. Hoffmann explains she was shaped by having a strong grandmother as a role model, showing her how to make things happen on her own. A father of her friend gave her a tip, to never hesitate to make decisions as indecision will kill a company. “He told me you only need to be right 51% of the time and to just keep moving forward. If you make an error you can always fix things later.”
In relation to the Tellspec idea she says: “My
daughter got sick when she was 14. She dropped out of school suffering from hives,
low blood pressure, tremors and light sensitivity. The doctors didn’t know what
was causing the chronic illness and it became my mission to identify the cause
of her mysterious disease. It took us a year to find out that she is severely
allergic to penicillin and that mould found in foods like cheese was causing
her to have a severe allergic reaction. She is also sensitive to gluten, dioxins
and other allergens”.