Food-related health problems such as food allergies, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have grown to epidemic proportions and are taking a heavy toll on our society and our health systems. According to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology about 17 million Europeans suffer from food allergies, with 3.5 million of them less than 25 years of age. Globally about 35% of adults are overweight, with half a billion of them obese. Obesity is affecting people at ever younger ages: today 43 million preschool children or nearly 7% of all under-fives are overweight. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that in Europe 35 million adults had diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) in 2011. This is projected to increase by 23%, to 43 million in 2030. According to the WHO, cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes more than half of all deaths across the European Region; CVD causes 46 times the number of deaths and 11 times the disease burden caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined in Europe; 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable and diabetes is a major risk factor and trigger for cardiovascular disease. Healthier food intake could reduce these numbers.
The Horizon Prize for a food scanner awarded a mobile solution that analyses precisely, quickly and efficiently food composition, nutrition facts and potentially harmful ingredients such as allergens. The challenge was also to be able to provide feedback to users regarding their health and lifestyle.
The winners of the €1m Food Scanner Horizon Prize are Spectral Engines (800 k€), SCiOscan and Tellspec (100 k€ each).
Spectral Engines is a Finnish start-up founded in 2014. It has a core competence in miniaturised spectrometers, turning them into plug-and-play industrial smart sensors. Spectral Engines was able to develop in a very short time-frame a food scanner prototype based on NIR spectroscopy, along with a Bluetooth connection to a mobile device and data connection to a Cloud server. Its food scanner prototype is compact and provides real-time results at a comparatively low price.
According to the jury, Spectral Engines provides a major step forward towards better food-sensor devices and may play a significant role in the emerging field of the 'Internet of Food' and smart personal nutrition. Unlike the other contestants, the Finnish start-up had developed both food scanning hardware and software.
SCiOscan is an Israeli data company that offers food analysis. Its solution is essentially a miniaturised, inexpensive version of technology that lab scientists have been using for years to determine the physical composition of various materials. SCiO’s handheld widget comes with apps that can report the physical composition of food and pharmaceuticals.
Tellspec is a London-based branch of a Canadian company, which developed a spectroscopic sensor. Their solution combines spectral sensors, bio-informatics techniques and learning algorithms. The handheld Tellspec food sensor is portable, costs a fraction of large lab equipment and provides real-time, non-destructive food analysis.