There are many reasons why we may want to know the composition of the food we eat. Some of us may need to know the exact energy intake, or the macro nutrient composition of the food. In some regions of the world the presence of toxic biological or industrial materials causes health problems, and people in those areas may want to know when their food is contaminated with those harmful materials. In the safer regions, people may simply want to be sure about how clean and healthy their food is. More and more people, worldwide, are willing to pay higher prices for local food in farmers’ markets, because they can talk to the farmer and gain the trust they need on how their food is grown. Everywhere in the world we ask ourselves questions about the food we eat: Is the food label accurate? Have the different ingredients been tested and are they not adulterated? And when there is no food label, like in a bakery or in a restaurant, is the food composition trustworthy and not harmful? One thing is sure, globally we all wish to know the quality of our food and we demand more and more transparency from food manufacturers.

But now we have a solution; due to the miniaturization of certain technologies, the consumers have available small non-destructive sensors, like Tellspec, that can scan their food at the molecular level, and in real time give information about the food scanned. Tellspec uses near infrared spectroscopy, a fast, noninvasive analytical tool based on the interaction of light with matter, which requires no sample preparation. When light hits the sample, the chemical bonds of the sample get excited and absorb some of the energy of the light creating a unique chemical fingerprint in the electromagnetic image called spectrum. Physical properties also influence this image, thus, by analyzing this record, scientists can draw conclusions about the chemical and physical parameters of the sample. Complexity of the signals makes it necessary to use the most modern computing technologies such as artificial intelligence. Since only non-harmful infrared light is applied as an investigation tool during the analysis, the technology is safe for the user and for the environment, and the tested food remains edible without limitations.

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The Tellspec food sensor combines spectroscopy, big data handling, cloud computing, artificial intelligence techniques, and a mobile app that work together to tell in less than 5 seconds the attributes of the food scanned. This sensor can predict concentration of basic food ingredients, such as fat, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, protein and moisture of several food types. It can also identify meat cuts and rank meats by freshness, and evaluate fruits regarding ripeness, firmness and quality. Tellspec’s diagnostic solution is already used routinely in detection of health impairing fake protein called melamine in protein sources of food industry, such as wheat gluten, infant formula, milk and egg powders.

Tellspec is also currently working to introduce several mobile apps that work with the scanner to detect specific, highly sensitive and selective applications, like the above-mentioned melamine detection in infant formula.

Tellspec’s goal is to help the clean food revolution; consumers will have in their pocket the sophisticated food analyzer tools that in the past belonged to food laboratories. Consumers can shop or eat at the restaurant and have means to analyze their food. The clean food revolution is here! Now the question is: How well can food manufacturers prepare for its arrival?

 

About the authors:
Isabel Hoffmann is an entrepreneur who has successfully founded eight companies over the last 26 years in the fields of preventative medicine, software, education, and more recently in digital health and food tech. Her natural ability to lead and inspire has resulted in numerous awards and honors throughout her career. As CEO and Founder of Tellspec, the company behind the world’s first food sensor, she leads a team of computational biologists, food scientists, mathematicians, software developers, and data analysts towards their mission to build a healthier world by empowering people to make informed choices about what they eat.
George Bazar is currently head scientist at Tellspec Inc., Canada, and research fellow at Kaposvar University, Hungary. He has been working with NIR spectroscopy since 2005. He graduated as an agricultural engineer and his PhD study focused on meat and fat authentications, quality assessment and quantitative evaluations using NIR technique.