Food Scanners

Food Scanners - Will They Change Your Diet?

Avoid Allergic Reactions, Count Calories, And More

January 23, 2018, Bruno Jacobsen

Imagine taking a small device out of your pocket, pointing it at a piece of food, and getting its exact composition and nutritional values. With these food scanners, you might. You could count its calories, know all its ingredients, and know whether it is spoiled or contaminated. Doesn't that sound good?

Well, some companies are working at it. And we seem to be getting ever closer. But how important will they become?

Food Scanners - Will They Change Your Diet?


Food scanners are hand-held devices that are able to analyse the composition of food with a simple point and shoot.

In March 2017, the European Commission awarded a food scanner innovation prize. It was part of their Research Innovation Horizon Prizes, with three successful finalists.

The winner was the Finnish startup Spectral Engines. Founded in 2014, the startup developed a food scanner based on Near Infrared Spectroscopy. With advanced algorithms and cloud-connectivity and a vast library, it can "see" a lot. According to the company, it can "reveal the fat, protein, sugar and total energy content" of foods.

The other two finalists, who also received a cash prize, were SciOscan (SCiO scanner) and TellSpec. Both companies started by raising money from crowdfunding and have been pioneers in the space. Their molecular food scanners utilise similar technologies. They scan food with light and observe how this interacts with the objects. This data is then sent to the cloud which analyses it and reports back information on the matter. The information goes straight to their own apps.


Other food scanners

These scanners are different in that they are unique portable devices. But other companies have also tried to develop food scanners as mobile apps.

These work differently and have focused around calorie scanners and macronutrients scanners. For instance, MyFitnessPal has an app called Calorie Counter that does just this. With millions of dishes in their database and the possibility to scan barcodes, they made figuring out exactly what you're putting into your body easier.




Preventing allergic reactions

These whether they come in the form of scanning apps or scanning devices, they have a lot of potential.

For many people with allergies to specific foods, they can help save numerous lives. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 1 in 13 children in the US alone have food allergies. And about 30% of these are allergic to more than one food. In the US, food allergies send over 200,000 people to emergency rooms a year - one person every 3 minutes. And there's no cure except for avoiding these foods.

But, in many situations, it's impossible to avoid them altogether. This becomes even harder when on vacation abroad or when eating out. Food scanners can provide valuable warning signs prior to ingesting food.


Controlling your weight and eating what's right for you

But even for those without food allergies, they can be useful. They could potentially be used to count the calories you're about to ingest, in case you're trying to lose a little weight. While some apps already help with this by scanning the barcodes or choosing the dish you are eating, they are not infallible. But in the future, this may change.

On top of that, with the progress in the fields of genetics and biotech, you may soon get a complete read of what foods are good for you and which you should avoid. For instance, you may figure out you are too sensitive to caffeine or that you should avoid eating more than 1 egg per day. Using molecular food scanners, you could get accurate information on the content of the foods you are eating. And avoid things you shouldn't eat.


Will people use them?

It seems, some may argue, impractical to carry one of these devices around with you. For anyone without allergies, the still-hefty prices and extra carry-on weight may prove an obstacle to adoption.

But for those with allergies, it may be a small price to pay to avoid bigger problems.

And then there are sports and health enthusiasts who may see great value in these.

In the end, it seems like there could be a real market for these devices. But even outside of the consumer market, we can find real applications in industry, as these molecular scanners are not restricted to food. It will certainly be interesting to see what the future will bring.


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