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PerkinElmer collaborates on photonic food quality sensor

12 Dec 2017

Project with Boston-based TeakOrigin to utilize various analytical techniques including Raman spectroscopy.

The large US-headquartered analytical equipment vendor PerkinElmer is teaming up with Boston’s TeakOrigin to develop a hand-held spectroscopic sensor to check food quality.

The two companies want to combine their respective cutting-edge molecular spectroscopy expertise – including UV-visible, mid-infrared, and Raman tools – with analytical chemistry techniques to develop what they believe will be a “first-of-a-kind” technology.

In the first stage of the collaboration, they are set to perform pilot tests on honey, olive oil and apples, although the approach ought to be suitable for a wide range of foodstuff applications if it proves successful.

Food fraud
TeakOrigin CEO Brent Overcash said in a release from the firms: “Together with PerkinElmer, we want to deliver a quick, simple and secure way to ensure that the food we eat is what’s indicated on the label, confirm how fresh and nutritious it is, and help eliminate food fraud and misrepresentation.”

One way to do that is to subject the food to the kind of examination that is possible in a well-equipped analytical chemistry laboratory, but not so easily replicated in such a compact and convenient form factor.

The research effort will look to exploit the non-destructive capabilities of photonics-based techniques with “wet” chemical methods including chromatography, to chemically characterize food samples as the molecular spectra are collected.

PerkinElmer said that the first research initiatives would take place in laboratories at its headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts, where analytical results will be calibrated against their molecular spectroscopy equivalents to facilitate fast, portable screening of foods for quality and safety threats.

$2M funding round
The initial pilot testing will focus on olive oil, honey and apples, with the intention to extend this type of analysis to many other foods, says PerkinElmer.

Jim Corbett, its executive VP for discovery and analytical solutions, added: “PerkinElmer brings extensive experience developing instrumentation, software and services to help food manufacturers better detect ingredients and adulterants, while navigating regulations.

“Working with TeakOrigin, we look forward to addressing key underlying issues in the food system, leading to better and healthier food decisions for grocery retailers and consumers.”

According to a US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) filing signed by CEO Overcash in August this year, TeakOrigin has raised $2 million in equity finance.

Among the company's key employees is its chief scientist Ellen Miseo, a vibrational spectroscopy and imaging expert who has previously worked in technology development at Hamamatsu. TeakOrigin's chief commercial officer Greg Shewmaker also founded the "Food+Future" laboratory, a short-lived collaboration involving US retailer Target, MIT Media Lab, and Intel.

Local reports suggest that the Food+Future activity, which involved Overcash, Miseo, and Shewmaker, was unceremoniously shut down by Target after only six months of activity.

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