Food Analysis at Your Fingertips

They’re small, they’re fast – and they could soon be in our pockets. We profile two innovative Horizon 2020 food projects that combine analytical technology with smartphone portability to put food analysis into the hands of consumers. The future is (almost) here – and it knows what’s in your food.

September 2017

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Food researchers are joining forces with hardware and ICT developers and mobile phone app writers to build a new type of scanner. Integrating three sensor devices with advanced software, the PhasmaFOOD will provide miniaturized and on-the-spot analysis for the detection of food spoilage and food fraud.

With Yannick Weesepoel, Researcher Food Authenticity – Food Scanners, RIKILT, Wageningen University & Research

The whole idea of PhasmaFOOD is to combine different light sensors into an integrated scanner system and build a consumer app around it to make a new generation of light food scanner. So-called heterogenous photonics is the ultimate hardware goal, which basically means that all the elements of a photonic system are fabricated on a single chip to meet size and cost requirements. The device will host three sensor types: two spectrometers and one micro-camera. In addition, three light sources will be integrated with the device to support its sensing functionality. A dedicated PhasmaFOOD mobile app will allow end-users to interact with the device, and the captured data will be communicated via wireless mobile networking to the PhasmaFOOD backend. Analysis results will immediately be sent to users, who will be able to access them at any time and from any location.

Why has portable food analysis suddenly become such a big thing? I think in one way it’s very much technology driven; until now, it was not possible to make a chip with an infrared sensor small or cheap enough. It was also not possible for smartphones to operate in such a way. The people making smartphone technology five or six years ago already recognized that people would be using their phones to a much greater extent in the future. Me? I can’t remember how good my phone was five years ago – actually, I don’t even remember if I had a smartphone! But the interest in food analysis is also consumer-driven; people are suddenly more interested in “scanning” their food – the idea of doing your own analysis, in a simple way, triggers something in people.

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