FoodTech startup creates portable scanner that detects chemical contamination in food

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

The Inspecto portable scanne. Photo: Inspecto.
The Inspecto portable scanne. Photo: Inspecto.
FoodTech startup Inspecto has developed a portable scanner that detects chemical contamination in food in real-time, expected to be commercially available in 2020.

The device, called Inspecto, can detect contaminants at concentration levels as required by regulators, guaranteeing traceability and complete transparency. The scan can be conducted outdoors or indoors, anytime to ensure responsible sourcing. 

Italy, Spain, France

Yari and Avner
Yari and Avner.

The firm claims the portable scanner brings lab testing to farmers, food manufacturers, and retailers without time-consuming, high-cost lab testing. It will be initially launched in Italy, Spain and France, followed by the US. 

Speaking to Avner Avidan, CEO, Inspecto, he said the scanner has the potential to enable for the very first time mass tests for contaminants, which can have a significant impact on our health. 

The WHO (World Health Organization) released a report in 2017, stating 1 in 10 people become sick from contaminant food​. One of the reasons behind this statistic is the industry's incapability to perform mass testing. This was our vision and drive for launching Inspecto​,” he added. 

Another impact mass tasting will enable is better management around food waste. Because supply chains will be better managed, we will see less recalls and destruction of disqualified food​.” 

Avidan said one of the advantages of Inspecto is the ability to tailor its device to the needs of the customer. 

Food manufacturers can use it to cut out expensive lab costs and better control their supply chain in terms of quality assurance and traceability,​” he said. 

Farmers on the other hand may wish to use Inspecto to check the level of pesticides they use to ensure they meet with the regulator's MRL (Maximum Residue limit). As for retailers, their objective is mostly from a PR point of view​.” 

Inspecto was set up in 2016 by two friends; Avidan and Yair Moneta, after learning there were high levels of contaminants in vegetables.

They watched a TV report about a researcher who went to a supermarket and took a sample of an Israeli salad to their institute. They checked it for pesticide residues and found it had substances prohibited by law. 

Thanks to the report, the pair decided they wanted to revolutionize the food industry by taking food testing out of the lab by developing a technology that was comprehensive and fast for detecting contaminants.

Horizon 2020

The technology has already been approved for a 2020 EU funded Horizon Grant part of the SME Instrument​ Fund.  

Yair and I share the same values and visions and we are motivated from a consumer point of view to make our food safer, cleaner and with full transparency. We want to know where our food comes from, and how to make sure it is safe to eat​,” said Avidan. 

From my perspective, there are two significant impacts Inspecto stands to make in the food industry as far as safety, quality, transparency and traceability are concerned​. 

The first is straight forward and focuses on improving significantly the supply chain as we know it today. Inspecto will reduce costs, time and the complexity of the quality assurance process by providing a good alternative to lab equipment​. 

We will act as a gateway for early screening of contaminants, much like the screening in airports when security quickly checks our bags for residues of explosives​. 

The second is what we call – the future of food safety and traceability. By introducing cloud-based analysis you’re opening the door of information and system integration to the food industry, and that’s a game changer for the business and consumers alike​. 

For the first time, a coffee bean will have a history log when it was first scanned in the field, then at the port, later on at the warehouse, at the roaster and all the way to the coffee shop​. 

It is important to note that today there are three key driving factors to the changes we see in the food industry: (1) consumers asking for full transparency on the quality of their food, (2) stringent regulations for food safety, and (3) new technologies, like Inspecto, that creates new opportunities and smart solutions​.” 

The way Inspecto works is in three stages; (1) Sample preparation; where the checked item, for example coffee beans, go through several steps where the beans are reduced to what is called "an analyte". That is a concentrated liquefied sample with the contaminant and a few other substances. (2) Signal enhancement; the contaminant's signal is enhanced. (3) Signal identification; the process is finalized by quantification and identification of the contaminant. 

The process can take from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on the contaminant and the matrix (the food item being inspected). 

HPLC compliant

The results are scans compliant with HPLC (High-Performance Liquid Chromatography) the industry's standard analytical technique to separate, identify, and quantify components in a mixture. 

Inspecto currently has four ongoing pilot projects with leading food companies, one based in the US and three in Europe, but all of them are confidential at this point. 

Our strategy is to focus on specific crops and food applications such as coffee beans, corn and wheat and to work with companies in a range of finish products​,” added Avidan. 

"Since each scan is conducted in real-time and the results are stored on the cloud, Inspecto can offer additional services to our customers that, until now, were impossible for them to implement​.

For example, customers can approve or reject a shipment on the spot based on the results, and they can use blockchain to store their information more securely​.” 

The Inspecto device can be tuned to identify almost any chemical contaminant, in any product, liquid or solid.

The advantage of Inspecto is the ability to identify and magnify the unique spectral fingerprint of each contaminant​,” added Moneta.

Moreover, you can conduct multiple scans per day without waiting for the results or paying exorbitant lab costs.​”

Inspecto will be exhibiting at Seed & Chips, in Milan, Italy, May 6-9, 2019.

Current partners include; The Strauss Group, which together with Strauss Coffee, it is working to introduce groundbreaking methods for early detection of contaminants in coffee. 

It has also partnered with Shinho, a Chinese condiment and snack company which owns a range of soy sauce and peanut products sold in more than 230 cities. Shinho is working with Inspecto on a pilot project to improve its contaminant detection process in peanuts.

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