According to the 2019 World Health Organization report, 1 in 10 people will get sick from eating contaminated food, with pregnant women and young children at the highest risk level. 40% of patients will be children under the age of five.
(WHO report, 2019)
A major reason for these dismal statistics is the fact that the entire food industry, from the farmer to the consumer, relies on 50-year-old technology for testing contaminants, technology which does not allow for frequent testing on a daily basis. The food industry has a clear interest in conducting as many tests as possible, as one miss could lead to product recall and negative publicity, resulting in losses of tens of millions of dollars and possibly even the destruction of the brand.
In order to detect toxins in food, technology needs to detect residues of organic matter at extremely low concentration levels (PPB - Parts Per Billion) - a complex, expensive and time-consuming procedure. The existing toxin detection technology (HPLC / LCMS) on which the food and agriculture industries rely, is outdated equipment that can only be operated by professionals in certified laboratories. The cost of the test, and the time it takes to get an answer, limit food companies to a small number of tests. These tests do not allow for immediate decision-making and multiple quality assurance tests. Food manufacturers are forced to choose between storing produce for a long (and costly) time or releasing food to the public without laboratory test results, leaving manufacturers at risk of food safety incidents and recalls.
Inspecto is developing a device for detecting contaminants in food that will operate independently of an external laboratory and at a significantly faster speed compared to existing solutions. The company’s groundbreaking technology allows food safety tests to be performed on-site by the manufacturer and returns results within a short time. The test is based on spectral and nanoparticle methods that allow the identification and quantification of toxins at extremely low concentration levels and in accordance with regulatory requirements. The company's vision is to lower the level of morbidity resulting from food contamination.
What it will look like (illustration - Gen 2 product):
Inspecto's development is based on a combination of two technologies: Raman spectroscopy and Surface-Enhancing Raman Spectroscopy (SERS).
Raman spectroscopy is a well-known optical method by which molecules can be specifically identified and quantified. However, this method alone is not suitable for the detection of extremely low concentrations, as required by regulators around the world regarding toxins in food (PPB concentrations). In order to detect toxins in low concentrations, Inspecto has developed a method to increase the signal of the toxins and thus make them apparent to Raman. This method of signal increase is called SERS, and although it is known in research universities, Inspecto is the first to tailor it to specific toxins that concern the food industry, and in a way that can be commercialized and taken out of the lab.
Inspecto's unique and specific use of nanoparticles (the SERS is composed of nanoparticles) is the basis for the company's innovation and patent protection. As the company expands its detection capability to other toxins that concern the industry, the patent protection will expand.
To date, the company has developed the ability to detect a toxin called acrylamide in food products. Acrylamide is a toxic chemical compound formed in starchy foods when they are baked, fried or roasted at high temperatures (120 ° -150 ° C).
With the help of a leading researcher in the field, Dr. Lili He from UMASS, Inspecto is the first company to develop nanoparticles and a "recipe" for industrial use, and today the company is developing the first product (Gen 1) for use in laboratories. The product is based on Inspecto's successful development - the ability to detect and quantify toxins immediately after preparing the sample for testing. Commercially, this product will be sold as a kit in which the company provides all the materials (solvents, nanoparticles, and spectrometers) needed to perform the test.
In April 2020, the company was approved for a government grant to develop the Gen 2 system that will perform the entire test automatically. In this product, the user will insert a sample into the capsule containing the solvents that will prepare the sample for testing. The sample will then be mixed with Inspecto's nanoparticles, and at the last station the mixture will be measured by the spectrometer. This development will allow the product to be deployed throughout the entire production chain and significantly increase the number of tests performed.
Information analysis based on location, production, season, source of raw materials and more, which will enable food companies to better manage the chain of suppliers and production and serve as an advertising tool for the consumer.
Direct information from testing
Conventional laboratory equipment (HPLC / LCMC) does not provide "yes / no contamination", nor quantity of contaminants information. The instrumentation emits a series of graphs, which are decoded by the technician who operates it. With Inspecto, this translation is done instantly and transmitted from the graph of the spectrometer to the interface (the application), allowing the user to make an immediate decision. for example - whether to continue packing the product now or whether to stop and inform the plant manager.
A lot of information is collected while the test is being performed, such as the type of food, the type of toxin, the test time, location of the test, batch number, batch source and more. The gathering of information allows the company to perform further data analysis.
Data Analysis and Big Data
When Inspecto reaches a mass of data, the company will be able to offer a number of advanced services -
1. The company's customers will be able to receive analysis of toxins by location, time of year, source of raw materials, etc., in order to improve and streamline the operation and minimize exposure to toxins.
2. Other platforms will be able to access the company's information through the API, so that they can use it for a fee. For example, many companies today testing the freshness of products have already approached Inspecto to integrate with existing information (their technology is unable to detect substances at low concentration levels).
Inspecto in the Media