Big promises with regards to identifying pesticides, allergens and nutrients in food. Is this real or fantasy? Time to be skeptical…
For this particular ill of the post-War era, there’s now a 21st-century workaround: a hand-held spectrometer that can determine exactly what is in the user’s food and display it on his or her smartphone.
A Toronto company called TellSpec has developed a spectroscopy data-crunching algorithm that runs in the cloud and delivers nuggets of useful information to the user through a smartphone app. The idea for the device came from co-founder Isabel Hoffman’s daughter, who suffers from gluten intolerance and other food allergies.
“Until recently, spectrometers were large and expensive, but now they are available as tiny affordable chips,” explained Hoffman.
So, on the surface, this sounds like an excellent ideas. Raman spectroscopy is a real thing but, as noted, the current technology is pricey. But it does work. Is this a case of the tech getting better and smaller?
Or is this a hyped device you will see on infomercials as a miracle product but is less than accurate or reliable? Hmm. There are some red flags here.
- The team does not include actually tech people but lots of marketers. Some have very questionable backgrounds.
- There is much vague but sciencey language in the pitches.
- They raised money via Indie GoGo instead of investors.
- Raman spectroscopy does not work well in a lit room so this idea of waving some “magic wand” over your food is overly simplistic.
- This is a LASER. They don’t sell powerful lasers to people to put in their purses, there are restrictions. If the laser is strong enough to do this work, it is strong enough to be dangerous.
- People who use this type of equipment are saying it’s impossible as described.
The Tender Foodie pulled their article on the device after noting critical comments on the JREF forum.
Dr. Stephen Watson chimed in on the JREF forum.
TellSpec uses several techniques to get information on allergens, and these use historical scans and database information. Of course, the scanner can only directly detect an allergen in the regions of the food being scanned. If a small bit of allergen is present in an unfamiliar food, and the laser does not scan that bit, then that bit of allergen will not be detected. TellSpec is NOT planned to be a medical device. Someone with a severe allergy should NOT rely on TellSpec, although they may still find it a helpful supplement to their current precautions.
Then he didn’t return to answer the followup questions.
So the demonstrations and the promises are all speculation at this point. The promises seem too large for what can reasonably be accomplished.
They far exceeded their IndieGoGo goal. I suspect MANY people would buy this product thinking it would do great things. But it has a very long way to go before anyone should believe it.
Tip: David Wood