Global competition has driven some suppliers to replace advertised food ingredients with cheaper and sometimes dangerous substitutes. A well-known example of this occurred in 2008, where it was discovered that milk in China had been contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical and known carcinogen that causes kidney failure. The Melamine incident affected 300,000 infants and young children, with six reported deaths. A more recent example occurred in 2015, when the Canadian government issued a warning regarding the high levels of aflatoxin in corn. Despite recognizing aflatoxin as carcinogen and a serious health risk, most food safety regulators have set a tolerance for aflatoxin as opposed to an absolute ban.
Consumers in rich and poor countries alike lack a quick, cheap and reliable way to analyze the food offered to them. Food-testing labs typically serve for large food manufacturers, and their results are not publicly available. Information on food labels may not be accurate or complete.
Technology to the Rescue
TellSpec, a Canadian-based data company, has developed an affordable, handheld food scanner. This simple solution was designed to provide the most relevant, useful and accurate information about the food we eat. The technology is a three-part system: a pocket-sized scanner, a cloud-based analysis engine, and a mobile application. At a molecular level, the system identifies ingredients, food quality, calories, macronutrients, and allergens. At a glance, the consumer can now determine the authenticity, safety and nutritional value of the products on sale. It also gives the user knowledge about their health in relation to the food they consume.
On a Mission
Everyone at Tellspec believes in the company’s mission for a world of clean food. Its overriding purpose is to put the scanners in consumers’ hands, not just grow a business. Most employees have given long hours without pay to the project. Some have even left other ventures to work for the firm, whose culture features strong respect among all team members. The company has currently 16 employees across North America, Europe and Asia, 6 volunteer advisors, and over 30 food testers across all continents.
Power to the People
TellSpec’s food scanning solution literally brings food testing in the hands of the consumer. Many food-testing labs exist, but they typically perform detection for large food manufacturing groups and their results are not publicly available. Food labels can give us some information, but they are not always accurate, and some ingredients may not be reported.
TellSpec’s dedicated team has made this initiative sustainable. The scanner technology will be integrated into appliances and phones within the next 5 years. Over time, more consumers, restaurants, and supermarkets will realize its benefits. The WAF Award can give TellSpec the visibility needed to kickstart a consumer food revolution.