Smart devices impacting our ways of living

June 12, 2017

Recent food scandals led to mistrust in the food industry. For example, cheap products or ingredients were sold as expensive goods. People increasingly desire to know what is in their food and where it is coming from. In some cases, these frauds even led to serious health problems among people.

This blog post is part of the 'Future trends' series of the KATANA Accelerator: a EU-funded platform for promising entrepreneurs who want to co-create the future of agri & food business. Visit the KATANA website for a complete overview of articles in the 'Future trends' series.


Small, easy and smart

Opportunities arise from technological developments and the use of big data to enhance transparency and traceability along the food chain, and to test the content of products yourself. Affordable, easy to use, real-time and 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. Read more about this award-winning scanner.

How Tellspec works

Tellspec is a small device that can measure the composition of many food compounds and more. For instance, you can scan if your French fries have acrylamide or if your fruit is sweet and it can 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 it 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 is gathered in the cloud data-base, the more precise the outcomes are.

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 know 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 testing regularly the quality of fresh products, meat and fish to minimize food spoilage. 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 health reaction and, finally, the consumers want to know what exactly is in their food, especially concerning allergies.

A satisfied customer

Frederik Nieuwenhuijs, Quality Assurance Manager at Meelunie, is a very enthusiastic user of Tellspec. Meelunie is a Dutch company which supplies starches, sweeteners and vegetable proteins for global trade. Trading overseas in countries like China, daily they have to deal with food fraud and food contamination. Nieuwenhuijs explains that adding urea or melamine to products are cheap but illegal ways to enhance the nitrogen content of the product and hence fool 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 and well before they actually buy the raw materials. So far, using Tellspec does not deliver them more profit, but they can secure safety for their own products. “Such devices are becoming increasingly important for the future,” according to Nieuwenhuijs.

The Future

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 on allergens, harmful bacteria or other substances of interest.

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 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 tipped her 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.

About the idea behind Tellspec she tells: “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 the severe allergic reactions. She is also sensitivity to gluten, dioxins and other allergens”.

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