Avner Avidan watched in horror as a TV news exposé revealed the alarming amount of invisible pesticide residues on supermarket fruits and vegetables. According to World Health Organization estimates, a variety of food contaminants sickened one of every 10 people during 2018.
“For me, the understanding that I can still cause significant damage to my body with these contaminants even if I try to be healthy and most of my diet is comprised of fruit, vegetables and soy, was shocking. I thought it required a different solution.”
Hoping to develop an accurate handheld device for shoppers to check produce for pesticide residue, Avidan put in six months of research and concluded this couldn’t yet be done reliably on the consumer level.
But he did discover that on a larger scale, food manufacturers, farmers and retailers were seeking faster, cheaper, and more reliable solutions to comply with government regulations requiring that their products do not exceed maximum residue limits (MRLs) for chemical contaminants including pesticides.
So in 2016, he and his friend Yair Moneta founded Inspecto with the aim of revolutionizing how the food industry carries out such tests for both liquids and solids.
Incubated at The Kitchen FoodTech Hub in Ashdod, Inspecto’s portable system can be tailored to detect specific kinds of chemical contamination in real time, in the field or indoors at any point along the production line.
A sample of the product is placed in Inspecto’s disposable capsule and then inserted into a pushbutton-activated device resembling a coffeemaker. Within a few minutes, the user sees a quantified measurement of the selected contaminant in the sample.
“Using our system will save on cost and turnaround time over the current lengthy and expensive process of sending samples to certified labs,” Avidan tells ISRAEL21c.
“We are already engaged in pilot projects with leading food companies wanting to take product safety assurance and traceability to the next level. Our aim is to go to field beta testing in Q3 of this year.”
These pilots began in January with three major companies in Europe to test raw ingredients and one in the United States to test a processed product.
“Food manufacturers have what we call a ‘wish list’ of contaminants covering different stages in the supply chain,” he explains. “Today it’s impossible for these companies to check everything because of how they have to sample in a low volume and frequency. We will help them get to mass frequency of testing.”
Avoiding recalls and lawsuits
To get an idea of how complicated the testing can get, Avidan gives the example of coffee beans.
Raw coffee beans need to be checked for pesticide residues. After being roasted at high temperatures, the beans must be tested for acrylamide, an organic compound that may be carcinogenic in high quantities. Inspecto will offer a designated testing capsule for each of these detection needs.
All testing results are stored in the cloud, recorded and analyzed in real time. This offers new capabilities, for instance allowing a retailer to approve or reject a shipment on the spot based on Inspecto results.
Inspecto cofounder Moneta, vice president of business development, points out that this technology also helps companies avoid the risk of recalls and potential lawsuits. The bad press generated by a single incident of food poisoning “can destroy a brand in a heartbeat.”
Inspecto has received a total of $1.7 million in funding. Investors include the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program; The Kitchen; the Israel Innovation Authority; the Bits x Bites food-tech accelerator in China; and Seventure Partners in Paris. “We’ll be raising an A round once we see the results of our field pilots,” says Avidan.
The six-person company includes two employees in a testing lab in Massachusetts. The industrial design of the Inspecto device is handled by Elad Kashi of FIT R&D agency in Tel Aviv.
Inspecto is not the only Israeli company helping to streamline and modernize testing in the food industry. Yarok Microbio of Jerusalem is piloting a rapid technology – in Israel and in Italy — to check raw and processed foods for bacterial contamination from E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and other pathogens. Another company aims to detect physical contaminants such as shards of plastic or glass. These different products could complement one another.
Inspecto will demonstrate its product at the Seeds & Chips trade show in Milan, May 6-9.