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Food Safety in Brazil — Brazil Takes the Lead in Food Quality Assessment

a photo of an array of fresh vegetables laid out amid a new device being used in food quality assessment for food safety in Brazil

Brazil put itself on the map when it comes to cutting-edge developments. Fine Instrument Technology (FIT)—a São Paulo-based company—has modified nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology as well as created applications in the retail commerce sector. The bold development is now being used for food safety in Brazil —that is, to specifically test the quality of meat and fruit in supermarkets and groceries.

In the past, testing could take as long as 48 hours, but FIT’s newly developed device takes only 3 minutes to sample, weight and measure. The device also performs a thorough physical as well as chemical analysis of grains, milk, meat, fruit, and even olive oil, among other products.

Food Safety in Brazil with SpecFIT

The device, named SpecFIT, makes use of low-field NMR. Unlike traditional NRM used in the medical field, this one does not produce images. For example, it measures the sugar content of fruits and analyzes it based on set parameters and information on existing databases. These so-called templates have been prepared and calibrated earlier by their partner organization, Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at Embrapa Instrumentation. According to the company, SpecFIT’s technology can also be used to analyze the fat content, succulence, flavor, and even the tenderness of beef.

The technology was funded in part by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) Small Business Innovative Research Program (PIPE). The project started in 2014 and was aimed at developing small-scale NMR spectroscopy for the benefit of research institutions. When the first prototype came out in 2015, however, they realized that more could be done with it. That led to further testing and refinement.

FIT is currently working on the development of low-cost commercial equipment that can be transported easily to conduct in-depth physical and chemical analysis of various plant and animal food products. The SpecFIT Food system is expected to roll out by the end of 2017. It will feature a low-field NMR device that has an antenna, a computer, as well as a radio transceiver.

a photo of a fanciful robot food tester creatively depicting the existence of a new device being used in food quality assessment for food safety in Brazil
SpecFIT’s technology can also be used to analyze the fat content, succulence, flavor, and even the tenderness of beef!

How Does the System Work?

The system works differently than traditional NMRs. First, an antenna or probe is inserted into the object being checked. Then the device sends a signal to the sample via the antenna, which then produces a radio signal. This signal is then analyzed, digitized and converted into information about the product and its quality.

According to Luiz Alberto Colnago—one of the project’s co-investigators—, the signal fades depending on the viscosity of the water in the fruit, which is in turn dependent on the amount of sugar it has. So if the signal from a piece of fruit disappears much faster, it means that the fruit is very sweet.

At the same time, the FIT is using the same technology to develop a device that can analyze the oil content present in dendê palm and seeds. This fact is an innovative move because it does away with having to dehydrate the palm in the process. The old way of doing this action not only took more than 48 hours to accomplish but also required using solvents and heat.

A Bold Move for Food Safety in Brazil

Using the new bold method will not only cut testing time to mere minutes but also ensure that the food or ingredient is exposed to as little external force as possible. Instead of having products that are heated, dried, and introduced to chemicals, consumers will be left with goods that have been tested clean and safe—left just the way they should be. Such a fact is indeed a plus for food safety in Brazil in the short and the long run.

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