Scanning food's fingerprint

Wageningen Food Safety Research is currently carrying out research on various portable instruments that can measure the composition of products within seconds – even through the packaging.

These small instruments need only a few seconds to measure the composition of products and provide information about, for example, their freshness or contamination.

Infrared light

The principle used by these scanners is well-known and dates from the nineteen-fifties. Many of us associate infrared with TV remote controls and supermarket scanners. In fact, measuring the composition with infrared is comparable to scanning the shopping. In both cases, a scanner shines infrared light on the product and receives the infrared light reflected by the product. A barcode scanner uses this reflected light to identify the barcode, whilst the analytical scanner collects the infrared spectrum that constitutes the product's unique fingerprint.

Measuring with your tablet

The product's infrared spectrum is processed by complicated algorithms programmed in the scanner's software. The scanner uses algorithms of the same type as those used by Google. Although these computation algorithms and software impose a very heavy burden on the computer hardware, following the latest technological developments the software can now run on a tablet or even a mobile. This makes the use of these scanners – even in the field – very simple.