Understanding what you eat helps you make healthier choices. Checking food ingredients also makes your work easier. However, at times, that might not be enough, as food contents might vary. A healthier diet is crucial throughout your lifetime and paying close attention to what you eat is a good starting step towards improving your overall diet.
As we grow older, our body requires a right type and amount of food nutrients for us to age properly. No matter how old you are, your body changes throughout your 20s, 30s, 40s and so on.Making wiser food choices is vital to your health as a right amount of regular physical activity and a healthy diet go hand in hand.
MediWorld ME met with Dr Isabel Hoffmann the Founder and the CEO of Tellspec, a data company that offers a real time, non-destructive food analysis scanner, which combines NIR spectroscopy, bioinformatics techniques and learning algorithms to analyze the food we eat at the molecular level.
Isabel took off as an entrepreneur and has been the CEO of many big companies until five years ago when her daughter unexpectedly became sick due to the food she consumed that very moment.
“Five year ago my daughter got very sick due to the food she was eating; I have been an entrepreneur all my life and I have been the CEO of several big software companies as well as genetic laboratories, so I came up with the idea to create a small spectrometer to test the food to help people like my daughter.”
The current Tellspec food scanner, called the Enterprise scanner, is a small handheld Near Infrared spectrometer that can detect food at the molecular level and does the food analysis in real time.
According to Dr Hoffman, an ordinary food scanner reads bar codes but the Tellspec Food Scanner reads the actual molecules so it can detect food fraud (like pork meat claiming to be veal), food adulteration (like melamine in baby formula), and food quality. Their instruments do not actually read bar codes.
Tellspec’s Enterprise food sensor uses Texas Instruments’ DLP technology. This technology allows the scanner to have an excellent performance due to a higher signal to noise ratio as well as a more accurate spectrum acquisition.
“We believe that TI’s DLP technology applied to spectroscopy brings amazing new opportunities for the exploding sensor industry, and we are proud to be working with Texas Instruments.”
Dr Hoffman explained that the food is scanned the same as any other eatery item, taking less than five seconds: “You place the scanner in contact with food and click the scanner button. The results are different pending on the mobile app you are using: for instance, for melamine you get an answer whether the baby formula has this toxin”.
The information accuracy depends on the substance. As for melamine can detect to .1 per cent of melamine concentration in baby formula.
“We decoupled the spectrometer from its computational component; placed the computation in the cloud so we can scale up to have the thousands of detections for specific toxins or ingredients in food. Since our analysis is done in the cloud we can, if we need more computational power we simply add new server”.
A food fraud occurs when food or drink is sold in a way that deliberately misleads or deceives consumers or customers for financial gain. Dr John Spink and Douglas C Moyer of the Michigan State University in 2011 defines ‘food fraud’ as a collective term used to encompass the deliberate & intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresen-tation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.
The Enterprise scanner has the ability to detect food frauds as well. Out of other examples, one common example is melamine.
“We recently detected melamine in baby formula and we are just launching the app for this detection so those that have our scanner can buy it”.
The company recently published a scientific paper on their scanner and detection engine and its ability to differentiate differ cuts of meat as well as given the age of the meat. They are now working on taking this work into an app that can be available to those that have the scanners.
Clean food revolution
The importance of food contaminants in the link between diet and cancer has been widely studied in the laboratory and in epidemiologic studies. Particular food ingredients, like saccharin food coloring, and acrylamide (a toxin found in potato chips), have been found to be carcinogenic. However, governments have concluded that these ingredients are safe, mostly because single instances of exposure do not cause immediate harm.
But, most studies did not take into consideration simultaneous exposures to other carcinogens, or the cumulative exposure of the same toxic, and often no independent epidemiologic study exists as a confirmation for the initial study.
“Without having in-depth scientific studies, our governments are allowing, in our food, chemicals that have been demonstrated to be carcinogens. So, we need to find ways to protect the consumer and to bring about transparency in the food label so we as consumers can make informed decisions.
“So, I see a world where all of us can have in our reach sensors like Tellspec, and this will force food chain to produce healthier and clean food. This is what I mean by the Clean Food Revolution.”
The word may sound strange but ‘Tellspecopedia by Tellspec educates consumers on food ingredients and their health impacts.
“Tellspecopedia is a great small encyclopedia of food ingredients found in our food and labels and their respective health effects. Often we shop and we do not know what our label says. Tellspecopedia is also found for free in our site as a website of its own; but it is also a mobile app.”
The powerful, searchable online database houses current, evidence-based information on global food ingredients. Tellspecopedia is the educational companion to the TellSpec scanner. When the TellSpec scanner and algorithm database detect an ingredient, TellSpecopedia provides its health implications.
The online database currently covers the most common and controversial 1,300 food ingredients ranging from additives, contaminants and manufacturing by-products to deliver scientific research about food to the consumer quickly and comprehensibly. TellSpec plans to grow the database overtime into the several thousands to encompass all possible global ingredients. Each record in the database synthesizes information from several scientific sources by listing an ingredient’s definition, health considerations, things to keep in mind, where the ingredient may be found, and alternative names and spellings, along with references and links to published studies for further reading.
“TellSpecopedia is the educational component of TellSpec. We’ve essentially pooled thousands of medical, peer-reviewed resources from around the globe and brought their findings under one roof. Now, it’s easier than ever to understand the health impacts of what’s in your food,” concludedDr Hoffman.