Home to almost 400 Agri-Food-Tech companies, Israeli startups offer a wide range of solutions in the fields of food contamination and material detection, food preservation and storage solutions, and food tracking
In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly designated June 7 as World Food Safety Day in order to raise awareness of the human toll caused by foodborne diseases and promote action to help prevent, detect, and manage food-related risks. While some solutions are as simple as practicing better hygiene in food preparation, others rely on cutting-edge innovation and technology-based products. Israel, as a global leader in the AgriFood-Tech industry, has much to offer the world as it seeks to reduce and eventually eradicate the dangers of foodborne diseases.
Unsafe food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhea to a variety of cancers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 600 million people fall ill every year after eating contaminated food, leading to 420,000 deaths annually — more than the number of people who die each year from malaria. Children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125,000 deaths recorded every year.
While the burden of foodborne diseases is a public health concern globally, the risk – particularly to young children – is most severe in low- and middle-income countries.
Another aspect of food safety (though thankfully far less common and lethal) is the growing prevalence of food allergies. Various estimates hold that between 1-10% of the population suffer from one or more food allergies. Global statistics are sorely lacking in this field, but according to U.S.-based non-profit FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), every year 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food.
For better or worse, foodborne diseases are generally linked to preventable causes such as preparing food with unsafe water, poor hygiene, and inadequate conditions in food production, transportation, and storage. While it is sad that this is the case, it also means that there is hope because a lot can be done to improve conditions. As such, food safety is a cause that has been taken up by governments and industry alike, with a focus on new technologies that can help in things like advanced detection, food traceability, material analysis, improved sanitation, chemical reduction in crops, and improved preservation and storage.
Israeli technologies improve food safety throughout the entire lifecycle
Considered a world leader in AgriFood-Tech, Israel as the Startup Nation is home to dozens of companies offering advanced technological solutions for enhancing food safety, divided up into several categories:
Food Contamination and Materials Detection:
Israeli innovation, particularly advanced sensor technology, helps ensure that the food that arrives on our plates does not contain harmful substances. Companies like Inspecto and Yarok Microbio develop solutions for the early detection of food contaminants. Kiins produces a biodegradable polymer that eliminates the need to clean food processing equipment after use in food production. Prevera developed a disinfectant solution to incorporate into water purification systems, food and beverage production processes, and packaging applications, and SensoGenic produces a consumer biosensor to detect allergens in food.,
Israeli companies like ClariFruit, Vibe Imaging Analytics, and Unispectral employ computer vision and machine learning technology for measuring the quality and ripeness of fruits and vegetables. Using state-of-the-art imaging innovation, these companies help stakeholders throughout the food supply chain to ensure only safe and high-quality produce is marketed for human consumption.
On the grower side, Israeli is home to numerous AgriTech companies that focus on reducing the use of chemicals. One such company is Groundwork BioAg, which produces mycorrhizal inoculants for commercial farming that improve soil nutrient uptake in plants, increase crop yields, improve resistance to several types of stress, and reduce fertilizer requirements by up to 25%. The company began operating in India, which is currently their major market, as part of an initiative launched by Start-Up Nation Central and the Syngenta Foundation.
Food Preservation and Storage Solutions:
In an effort to keep food safer and more nutritious for longer, Israeli companies have invented a series of ingenious solutions. BioTip makes specialized freshness stickers that change color according to the product’s state of freshness. Save Foods develops a line of eco-friendly sanitizing solutions to eliminate salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. AseptoRay came up with an eco-friendly, cold pasteurization method based on ultraviolet technology to reduce spores and heat-resistant molds. Silo Kitchen is the developer of a vacuum-sealing container system that combines one-touch vacuum technology with an IoT infrastructure designed to help foods stay fresh longer. Another company that tackles hygiene throughout the production process is Soapy Care, which developed an IoT-powered hygiene micro-station, designed to ensure that employees wash their hands properly when needed. Israeli companies like Hefestus Technologies, Plastopil, StePac, and Post Harvest Solutions each offer their own unique solutions for ensuring that, once prepared, the food we eat arrives at our kitchens under optimal conditions that also extend its shelf life.
Food Tracking, Supply Chain, and Logistics:
Food traceability is one of the key challenges when it comes to food safety. Israeli companies employ advanced solutions that make it possible to track the food we eat throughout the entire supply chain and monitor its condition as it makes its way across the globe. Varcode, for example, develops technology for continuous cold chain monitoring for perishables by providing a dynamic barcode, barcode readers, and a dashboard for up-to-date transportation information. Another company, Trellis has developed an AI-powered food system intelligence platform that enables key agricultural players, from growers to food manufacturers, to accurately forecast crop production, supply chain fluctuations, and market trends, which can result in lower costs, improved quality, and reduced food loss.
With an Agri-Food-Tech industry made up of nearly 400 companies, making it the second largest in the world, Israel is also home to several Food-Tech hubs, such as The Kitchen, which is operated by the Strauss Group and whose portfolio includes Bio Fence, a manufacturer of patented technology for antimicrobial and antiviral coating of surfaces used to reduce the presence of hazardous pathogens such as viruses, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. Other hubs that foster innovation in the food industry and are involved in, food safety are Food-Tech incubator Fresh Start, Tnuva’s consumer and retail innovation center Capsule, and GrowingIL a government initiative of the Israel Innovation Institute, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Israel Innovation Authority that aims to reshape Israeli agriculture to meet emerging global food needs through the implementation of groundbreaking technologies. Food safety starts by using clean water both in the field and at home. Israel is known as a leader in water technologies, particularly for irrigation and waste-water treatment. Israel’s national water company Mekorot also operates a specialized unit for advancing innovation in the water industry, investing in startups, running a technology incubator, and providing access to knowledge about water, which is a primary part of the food safety ecosystem.
Director of Research at Start-Up Nation Central, Meir Valman: “Israel’s tech ecosystem is famous for taking cutting edge technologies developed for one purpose and adapting them to other use cases. The field of food safety and traceability is a great example of this with a number of Israeli startups in this area making use of advanced sensors in order to check the quality and freshness of food. Other technologies include biologicals and artificial intelligence (AI) that enable Israeli startups to offer a huge range of food safety-related solutions. These range from discovering and developing new agricultural inputs; tending to the various cultivation challenges like water, pests, and optimization; digitizing trade and ensuring post-harvest resilience; creating new ingredients like cultured meat and dairy, through to food processing and production improvements.“