Nanotechnology for food security

Project Case |ICT & AgriFood |Mater Dynamics

General speaking, it is considered a food incident as a situation within the food supply chain where there is a possible or confirmed risk associated with the consumption of a food. Moreover, a food recall is an action taken by a food business to remove unsafe food from distribution, sale and consumption, in a quickly way in order to protect public health and safety.

Food recalls are a major concern for the food industry. In recent years, the number of identified and reported incidents of contaminated food products has dramatically increased, posing serious health and economic consequences. In some countries incidents of this kind with a huge impact on population have produced phenomena of collective hysteria.

To early control these incidents many countries have regulated procedures of traceability, which is the ability to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution (including importation and at retail). Traceability should mean that movements can be traced one step backwards and one step forward at any point in the supply chain.

Traceability enables corrective actions (such as a product recall) to be implemented quickly and effectively when something goes wrong. When a potential food safety problem is identified, whether by a food business or a government agency, an effective traceability system can help isolate and prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers.

Traceability allows as well food businesses to target the product(s) affected by a food safety problem, minimizing disruption to trade and any potential public health risks. It is important for all food businesses (including retailers and importers) to be able to trace products.

Concerning European law, traceability means the ability to track any food, feed, food-producing animal or substance that will be used for consumption, through all stages of production, processing and distribution. Its aim is to prevent potential risks that can arise in food and feed, and to ensure that all food products in the EU are safe for European citizens to eat.

In this context was born QStamp®, to deal with the need of traceability within the whole food supply chain. Indeed, its value proposition is to radically change current way of food tracking, by developing a label pasted to perishable food packages, which integrates printed low-power electronic circuits and nanosensors, enable to measure external variables from food and to report them passively, through standard wireless technologies and non-invasive operational protocols.

QStamp® is so a flexible, low-cost and wireless sensor that can measure temperature, humidity, pressure and light using nanotechnology. Its sticky like application allows QStamp® to be easily used on any package or material helping, for example, food retailers, consumers and restaurant owners to better manage their food products.

QStamp® runs without battery and can be applied on any material regardless of its shape. The temperature, humidity and pressure data collected by the QStamp® are sent to a database through wireless protocols such as RFID, and then a software translates the information into actionable data within the users Preferred system (ranging from Excel to complex supply chain management ERP’s) via API’s. Furthermore, technology developed is compliant with standard hardware as smartphones and RF devices, which are growing in terms of adoption by companies and consumers.

The company, Mater Dynamics, is a Portuguese SME dedicated to develop sensoring solutions combining ICT and Advanced Materials practices. Its technology comprises microelectronics, RF communications, cloud computing and materials’ synthesis, in order to allow Mater Dynamics conceiving better sensors. Regarding this project, its overall objective is to see QStamp® on any packaged food item around Europe, with capability to monitor up to six variables.

Company currently has a team of PhDs and MScs (2 PhDs, 3 MSCs and 2 BScs), with backgrounds ranging from Chemical Engineering up to Computer Science, having one dedicated team member for Business Development. In addition, it has an informal board of advisors both from academic institutions, as the M.I.T. and NOVA Business School, and from corporate side, as Altice.

At the time of joining to ACTTiVAte, Mater Dynamics already had an important industrial partner in UK, as well as two demonstrator clients in Portugal, one of the latter being a key player in the retail market of the country, aiming to implement a new protocol for distribution activities and real-time temperature monitoring to fulfill the cold chain requirements. So hence, QStamp® is more than a single project, because it has a vocation of standard for many industries.

For this project opportunity timing is clear, and participation in ACTTiVAte has helped to foster already implemented strategy, as well as enriching product-market strategy with a clear set of objectives and associated initiatives and KPIs. Strategy is now focused on deploying commercial efforts on such demonstrator clients in Retail and Logistics, as key enablers for the quick-as-possible adoption of the system in their industries.

Next future looks like optimistic for the project: in the medium term it is foreseen both an international roll-out and a diversification to other regulated industries with traceability needs, such as Pharma and the Veterinary one.

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