Testing for contaminants is one of the most critical guarantors of food safety, yet the current system may be needlessly expensive and fatally flawed.
Currently, a coffee grower in South America will ship a sample of their beans to a designated lab the other side of the world for testing. The process involves numerous skilled personnel such as chemists, the sample preparation and analysis itself costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time, and in all it takes approximately two weeks to gain the information.
“There are large Israeli companies that have their checks done in Germany, and we know of others that do them in Italy,” explains Yair Moneta, VP – business development for Inspecto.
The tech company – which was founded in 2016 but started to generate real pace at the end of 2017, when it had its first investments and partnerships – is attempting to popularise a new system of contaminant testing that will make it quicker, more affordable, more accessible and more reliable to identify unwanted substances in food.
Inspecto’s solution consists of a portable device and disposable capsules.
Because the current system is convoluted and expensive, it often fails to do an adequate job, Moneta tells me. For instance, due to the complex procedures involved, the Israeli regulator can currently only perform survey testing for contaminants in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Inspecto’s solution consists of a portable device, sold at low cost, and disposable capsules that are specific to the contaminant they can detect. There are plans for capsules that can detect multiple contaminants at once by 2021, and Inspecto will also provide customers with optional data services.
The test kit uses surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, which involves a contaminant molecule attaching to an enhancement molecule to make the signal visible to the machine. This allows Inspecto to achieve a level of diagnosis in the range of parts per billion (ppb) – the sensitivity needed for food safety testing.
Inspecto’s device will be much less expensive to use, the company says. And with the industry expected to spend $18.5 billion a year on contaminant testing by 2021, it means that Inspecto’s solution could provide almost ten times as much data as existing methods, increasing frequency and reliability.
“Currently the companies aren’t conducting as many scans as they would want to conduct,” Moneta says. “Our feeling is they would allocate approximately the same amount of money to contaminant testing – but have much, much more information.”
Moneta explains that it usually takes a couple of weeks before companies they approach fully understand how Inspecto works, but, once they do the true potential of the device often dawns. As it is portable, they can take it around the world with them and test for contaminants wherever they are – on the process line, in the field, in storage, or at ports.
“We are talking about companies who conduct more than 100 scans per day for a single contaminant and right now they take from the chain, they send it to the lab, they wait a few days.
Founders Avner Avidan (left) and Yair Moneta are trying to redefine food contaminant testing.
“Inspecto generates information about food contaminants within minutes, which means you can have reliable, actionable information. Anyone can use it; it really is a game-changer.”
And the device can still generate big data, meaning that a company’s quality assurance officers can have access to the information gained from the scans regardless of where it took place.
The start-up is concentrating on two verticals: it is aiming to offer a bespoke service to large packaged food companies, creating a solution that meets their specific needs. But 70-80% of its business will be focused on the world’s nine most commonly grown crops – including wheat, soybeans, rice and potatoes – and ensuring they are free from contaminants.
“We want to do good,” Moneta proclaims. “Fortunately for Inspecto, a lot of the contaminants apply to many crops, so the most relevant contaminants for rice are very relevant for soybeans, too.”
“Ultimately, we want to enable the food industry to be more efficient in production and help guarantee higher safety standards.”
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