UL and SafeTraces Transform Palm Oil Sustainability Practices

UL and SafeTraces Transform Palm Oil Sustainability

Date: August 1, 2019

PLEASANTON, Calif.Aug. 1, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — UL, a leading global safety science company, today officially announced a strategic partnership with leading traceability solutions provider, SafeTraces. This collaboration launches a ground-breaking traceability solution, combining SafeTraces state-of-the-art, DNA-based traceability solutions and UL’s scientific leadership and trusted supply chain verification capabilities. The solution offers businesses a transformative and efficient approach for palm oil traceability and purity assurance and helps to alleviate significant and increasing pressure to deliver on commitments to enhance sustainability practices.

While the 2017 Ceres’ Reporting Guidance for Responsible Palm notes serious issues around palm oil production such as tropical deforestation, increases in greenhouse gas emissions, and worker’s rights infringements, discontinuing the supply and use of palm oil altogether is not the answer. Palm oil production is an essential contributor to the economies of many countries, and the production of alternative, less efficient oils would result in more deforestation. Global efforts to prevent environmental and labor abuses commonly associated with palm oil production have failed to keep pace with consumer demands for sustainable sourcing. The appropriate and most effective response to the problem is a consolidated effort from all stakeholders to produce and source sustainable palm oil across the entire supply chain.

UL and SafeTraces are solving critical challenges and removing barriers to access markets by offering brands a uniquely robust and innovative solution to the problem. SafeTraces patented DNA-based traceability technology provides actors across the palm oil supply chain with the source information they need to make sustainable choices. UL’s objective, science-based assessments confirm the accuracy of that information. With the ability to accurately identify the source of palm oil, leading food companies, processors, and producers can significantly strengthen sustainable sourcing systems and simultaneously drive trust within the industry and with consumers.

“SafeTraces has developed a game-changing first-mile traceability solution that links the physical food product to its digital ID,” said Simin Zhou, Vice President and General Manager for UL Ventures. “Through our integration with the SafeTraces solution, we can jointly accelerate and validate the supply chain’s efforts toward fully traceable, more sustainable sourcing practices. As a 3rd party audits and inspections provider with a worldwide presence, we will work together with SafeTraces to tackle the palm oil sourcing problem on the ground, delivering unprecedented control of and insight into a critically important food supply chain at the global level.”

“Palm oil is ubiquitous in the world’s most popular consumer food and household products, yet its supply chain has a well-documented track record of troubling environmental and labor practices that sadly continues today,” said Anthony Zografos, Founder and CEO of SafeTraces. “The human, environmental, and financial toll of this problem is enormous. The first-mile, from plantation to mill, is where the risk of deforestation and labor exploitation is greatest and where traceability is weakest. SafeTraces is thrilled to partner with a global leader like UL to securely trace palm oil back to individual plantations in a way that is operationally and financially attractive for our customers.”

About UL
UL helps create a better world by applying science to solve safety, security and sustainability challenges. We empower trust by enabling the safe adoption of innovative new products and technologies. Everyone at UL shares a passion to make the world a safer place. All of our work, from independent research and standards development, to testing and certification, to providing analytical and digital solutions, helps improve global well-being. Businesses, industries, governments, regulatory authorities and the public put their trust in us so they can make smarter decisions. To learn more, visit UL.com.

About SafeTraces
SafeTraces provides the only patented on-food safety solutions that protect the food industry and consumers from food recalls, adulteration, and fraud. We are committed to providing complete, low-cost solutions that deliver results in minutes. Our traceability solutions enable customers to gain full transparency into the origin, protect their brand, and reduce processing and recall costs. Our sanitation verification solutions provide insight into the effectiveness of the sanitation process – on-site and in minutes.

SafeTraces was founded in 2013 and has grown into an expert team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers dedicated to using nature’s DNA to make food production safer, more transparent and sustainable. Learn more about SafeTraces at www.safetraces.com.

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SOURCE SafeTraces, Inc.

This post originally appeared on PRN Newswire. Read it here.

SafeTraces Granted U.S. Patent

safeTracersGranted U.S. Patent

Date: May 8, 2019

PLEASANTON, Calif.May 8, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — SafeTraces, Inc. announced today that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the company a U.S. Patent titled DNA Based Bar Code for Improved Food Traceability. The patent discloses a novel method for encoding and decoding digital information to and from DNA strands. The SafeTraces technology uses DNA strands drawn from seaweed and allows the food and agricultural industries to create and apply unique, edible, flavorless DNA barcodes directly to the food, not the packaging. These barcodes carry complete source data, stay on the food throughout the supply chain, and can be read in minutes to confirm provenance and purity of any food item.

The result is a highly scalable, cost-effective way of uniquely identifying the food – not just the box or pallet – that is far superior to conventional DNA tagging. To illustrate the advantages, consider that the same infrastructure that is needed to create just thirty-two DNA barcodes using conventional methods allows SafeTraces to create and deliver over four billion DNA barcodes, representing a cost advantage of many orders of magnitude. The SafeTraces DNA barcodes, marketed as safeTracers™, can be read anywhere, anytime by minimally trained personnel in minutes, while conventional DNA barcodes require specialized laboratories, clean rooms, and highly trained personnel – a process that normally takes days and thus offers no practical operational value.

The implications of this new model for the food and agricultural industries are profound: Inseparable from the food or product – unlike 2D barcodes – safeTracers represent the connecting link between the food and blockchain or other supply chain systems. Developed for low margin industries, such as fresh produce, tropical oils, and bulk foods and grains, safeTracers offer processors and consumers complete source assurance within minutes. This is particularly critical in times of food recalls, or when questions about authenticity, sustainability, or economically motivated adulteration need to be answered rapidly and accurately. safeTracers offer results in minutes – anytime, anywhere – enabling the industry to improve traceable sourcing with the ability to premium price, defend margins, and enhance brand loyalty. Consumers gain increasing certainty and trust in the quality and brand of the food they buy.

Obtaining this patent further demonstrates SafeTraces’ commitment to the development of next generation traceability and digital food safety technologies that enable our customers to vastly improve tracking when it comes to food. “This patent is a critical component of our IP portfolio that includes many innovations to create a more digital, transparent, and safer food system while also addressing consumer demands for quick access to information about where foods come from, how they’re produced and, whether the food is the subject of an ongoing recall,” said Dr. Anthony Zografos, CEO, SafeTraces, echoing a statement by the FDA Acting Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.

safeTracers™ are affirmed G.R.A.S. (Generally Regarded as Safe) by the FDA. They are part of the complete solutions offered by SafeTraces that include the IoT miniDART™ and D-ART3000 DNA barcoding systems and DNA barcode readers. The solutions use low-cost equipment that easily and seamlessly retrofits into existing production facilities and usher in a new era of food source and safety assurance.

About SafeTraces

SafeTraces provides the only patented on-food safety solutions that protect the food industry and consumers from food recalls, adulteration, and fraud. We are committed to providing complete, low-cost solutions that deliver results in minutes. Our traceability solutions enable customers to gain full transparency into origin, protect their brand, and reduce processing and recall costs. Our sanitation verification solutions provide insight into the effectiveness of the sanitation process – on-site and in minutes.

SafeTraces was founded in 2013 and has grown into an expert team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers dedicated to using nature’s own DNA to make food production safer, more transparent and sustainable.

Learn more about SafeTraces at www.safetraces.com

SOURCE SafeTraces, Inc.

This post originally appeared on PRN Newswire. Read it here.

SafeTraces Launches DNA-Based Solution for Grains

SafeTraces and JBT Launch Partnership

Date: July 2, 2019

PLEASANTON, Calif.May 21, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — SafeTraces, Inc. announced the launch of a first-mile traceability solution for conventional and organic grains, which will be available on a limited basis immediately and commercially available in late 2019. The DNA-based solution leverages the company’s patented, FDA affirmed GRAS materials, currently being implemented across the fresh produce industry.

On-product, item-level traceability has the potential to transform supply chains for dry bulk commodities. With the ability to granularly and accurately identify the source of grain, leading food companies, processors, and producers will be able to dramatically improve food safety, quality assurance, fraud detection, and sustainable sourcing systems.

“The grain industry relies on a 20th century supply chain model that has failed to evolve with 21st century demands for traceability and sustainability,” said Anthony Zografos, Founder and CEO of SafeTraces. “While consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced, much of this data is lost the moment grain is transported off the farm. From verifying whether organic grain is truly from an organic source, or whether conventional grain has not been treated with glyphosate, to rapidly responding to food recalls, our ground-breaking first-mile traceability solution addresses these glaring market needs in a powerful, practical, and cost-effective way.”

The launch of SafeTraces’ first-mile traceability solution comes at a time when the global food industry attempts to respond to consumer calls for greater transparency by setting ambitious sustainability goals and modernizing supply chain practices through technology and process innovation. According to the 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study, 94% percent of consumers say it is important to them that the brands and manufacturers they buy from are transparent about what is in their food and how it is made.

Across its portfolio of solutions, SafeTraces applies edible, flavorless, odorless DNA-based barcodes directly to food, not the packaging, to deliver unprecedented traceability. safeTracers can be read anytime, anywhere in minutes. Expansion into the grain industry is one of several major launches into new customer segments planned in 2019, along with leafy greens and palm oil, among others.

About SafeTraces
SafeTraces provides the only patented on-food safety solutions that protect the food industry and consumers from food recalls, adulteration, and fraud. We are committed to providing complete, low-cost solutions that deliver results in minutes. Our traceability solutions enable customers to gain full transparency into origin, protect their brand, and reduce processing and recall costs. Our sanitation verification solutions provide insight into the effectiveness of the sanitation process – on-site and in minutes.

SafeTraces was founded in 2013 and has grown into an expert team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers dedicated to using nature’s own DNA to make food production safer, more transparent and sustainable.

Learn more about SafeTraces at www.safetraces.com.

SOURCE SafeTraces, Inc.

This post originally appeared on PRN Newswire. Read it here.

JBT and SafeTraces’ alliance to revolutionize food safety

SafeTraces Launches Traceability for Grains

Date: May 21, 2019

PLEASANTON, Calif.July 2, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — JBT Corporation, the top-tier technology solutions provider to the global food and beverage industry, and SafeTraces, a leading food safety and traceability solutions provider, have announced a global alliance to integrate SafeTraces’ breakthrough, patented DNA-based technologies into JBT’s solutions portfolio for worldwide distribution.

The strategic alliance will focus on incorporating SafeTraces’ groundbreaking food safety and traceability technology into JBT FoodTech businesses, including fresh produce technologies, fresh-cut technologies, and coating equipment solutions, enabling rapid verification of sanitation processes and item-level tracking and tracing of food materials. Instead of waiting for days or weeks to verify food safety, sustainability or purity, the integrated solutions will provide the food industry with actionable results in minutes, fundamentally changing the way safe, sustainable food is produced and delivered.

According to The United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), food-related recalls have risen at 10% in the United States from 2013 to 2018. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) also estimates that each recall results in over $10 billion in direct costs not including indirect costs related to long-term damage to the brand reputations of food industry actors. Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly called on the food industry to embrace new technologies and innovations focused on improving its ability to secure the food supply chain and engage in more effective tracking and tracing of food from farm to fork.

JBT is committed to continued innovation by applying differentiated and proprietary technologies to meet its customers’ food processing needs. It continually strives to improve its existing solutions and develop new solutions by working closely with its customers to meet their evolving needs.

“Food safety and traceability is a mega-trend that will transform the marketplace over the next generation,” said Carlos Fernandez, JBT’s Executive Vice President and President, Liquid Foods. “Consumers are increasingly rewarding food companies that provide greater transparency on how their food was produced and leaving behind those that don’t. SafeTraces has developed a game-changing technology that has wide-ranging applications across our business. We’re thrilled to partner with them and offer this breakthrough to our customers.”

“On-product, item-level traceability is the holy grail of source assurance, and rapid on-site verification of sanitation process is the holy grain of safety assurance,” said SafeTraces Founder & CEO Anthony Zografos. “We’re the first company to develop a technology that is commercially viable, scalable, and delivers clear benefits and a clear return on investment to customers. Partnering with a renowned market leader like JBT presents a tremendous opportunity to commercialize and distribute our technology at a global scale.”

About JBT

JBT Corporation is a leading global technology solutions provider to high-value segments of the food & beverage industry with focus on proteins, liquid foods and automated system solutions. JBT designs, produces and services sophisticated products and systems for multi-national and regional customers through its FoodTech segment. JBT also sells critical equipment and services to domestic and international air transportation customers through its AeroTech segment. JBT Corporation employs approximately 6,500 people worldwide and operates sales, service, manufacturing and sourcing operations in more than 25 countries.

About SafeTraces

SafeTraces provides the only patented on-food safety solutions that protect the food industry and consumers from food recalls, adulteration, and fraud. The company is committed to providing complete, low-cost solutions that deliver results in minutes. Its traceability solutions enable customers to gain full transparency into origin, protect their brand, and reduce processing and recall costs. SafeTraces sanitation verification solutions provide insight into the effectiveness of the sanitation process – on-site and in minutes. The company was founded in 2013 and has grown into an expert team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers dedicated to using nature’s own DNA to make food production safer, more transparent and sustainable. Learn more about SafeTraces at www.safetraces.com.

SOURCE SafeTraces

This post originally appeared on PRN Newswire. Read it here.

Six Technologies That Could Shake the Food World

Featured in the Wall Street Journal

Written by Annie Gasparro Jesse Newman | Oct. 2, 2018


A machine that prints chicken nuggets. Fake shrimp made out of algae. Edible coverings that keep fruit fresh.

These inventions—and many more—are part of a technological revolution that is poised to shake up the way we eat.

treatment of animals. There is also a growing awareness of the harmful effect that food production can have on the environment.

Now big food companies and entrepreneurs are taking advantage of advances in robotics and data science to meet those challenges—and the trend will likely continue as technology improves, and natural ingredients become easier to cultivate.

It also helps that venture capitalists are flocking to the companies cooking up these innovations. This year is on pace to set a record for this decade for venture investment in food technology, according to the PitchBook Platform data provider. As of mid-September 2018, VC funds had invested more than $2 billion into the industry, compared with about $1.5 billion annually in 2016 and 2017.

Investors say the food industry is playing catch-up now after historically lagging behind in technological advancements. U.S. food and agriculture sectors have historically been among the least digitized in the nation, says Sanjeev Krishnan, chief investing officer and managing director at S2G Ventures, a venture-capital firm that invests in food and agriculture companies.

“But that is changing on a monthly, even weekly, basis,” he says.

Here’s a look at some of the breakthrough technologies that may have a big impact on what we eat, and how our food is made.


Printing your food to order

A new technology promises to let people choose their own ingredients and create food the way they want it—by using a 3-D printer.

The machine, called the Foodini, replaces the usual plastic ink to create food through essentially the same process that people now use to make toys and pencil holders. Restaurants and bakeries are using the Foodini to make intricate desserts and garnishes, and a home version will be available in a couple of years.

Among other uses, says Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of Foodini maker Natural Machines, the home machine will allow parents to place ground chicken into one of its stainless-steel ingredient containers and breadcrumbs in the other. Then parents can let their children pick a shape like dinosaurs or stars, and the Foodini will print—and cook—chicken nuggets in that form. Natural Machines also plans to have inputs for fat and calorie content that will adjust the size of the nuggets or cookies that come out.

The current commercial version costs $4,000, but Natural Machines expects that to come down over time.

the oven. The inventors initially developed the device with a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Protein from algae

There is a shallow blue-green pool of water in the New Mexican desert, and it isn’t a mirage: It is a site for growing algae, plants rich in protein and Omega 3.

It is also a potential solution for a global food dilemma. The world is running out of land for raising animals for food, experts say. Algae grow well in brackish water and in the desert because of the abundant sunshine and the fact that they don’t need fresh water— potentially bringing more unused land into productive use.

Now advances in algae farming are making it a popular ingredient in new foods like algae-based protein bars and vegan shrimp, as well as other products such as fish feed and food coloring


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This article originally appeared on the Wall Street Journal. Read it here.

DNA Barcodes Adapted to Bulk Products

DNA Barcodes Adapted to Bulk Products

Date: January 9, 2018

PLEASANTON, Calif.Jan. 9, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — SafeTraces, Inc. announced today the delivery of the world’s first DNA-based traceability systems for fertilizer to twenty manufacturers in an unnamed NATO member country. Illegal diversion, tax evasion, misuse, and adulteration plague many global commodities. SafeTraces’ patented D-ART 3000 systems set a new standard in undetectable, unbreakable, cost-effective tagging of high volume goods. The first twenty systems are part of a multi-system order with additional deliveries planned in the coming months.

The company’s D-ART 3000 systems are seamlessly integrated into fertilizer bag-filling lines and mix a unique ‘DNA Barcode’ into each bag, totaling millions of unique DNA Barcodes each year. Coupled with a blockchain-based or centralized code registry system, SafeTraces™ DNA Barcodes create unbreakable links between physical objects and their digital certificates, enabling transaction recording and rapid verification at any point in the supply chain. When used with most commodities, SafeTraces™ DNA Barcodes will be stable for over two years. The D-ART 3000 system is part of SafeTraces’ complete solution that includes DNA Barcode customization and dispensing, DNA Barcode tracking systems, test instruments, and test kits.

“The D-ART 3000 is the first system that brings DNA tagging from the laboratory to industrial settings,” said Anthony Zografos, CEO of SafeTraces. “We developed an easy-to-use, yet robust and low-cost solution that includes FDA approved, food-grade DNA Barcodes. We are putting the power of modern molecular technologies in the hands of industrial customers and end users. The response from customers in a wide range of industries has been universally enthusiastic.”

SafeTraces is actively marketing the D-ART 3000 system to fertilizer manufacturers and government organizations in AfricaAsia, and Europe. In addition, the company is demonstrating the solution for traceability and source assurance in sustainable commodities, such as palm oil, oil seeds, and beans. “Mislabeling of sustainable products is a worldwide problem,” said Zografos, “as ingredients pass through multiple intermediaries between growers and processors. Products are mixed or replaced along the supply chain with non-certified substitutes, putting a brand’s sustainability claims into question. The only solution is greater supply chain transparency, and SafeTraces provides unparalleled source assurance, even in the most complex supply chains.”

About SafeTraces

SafeTraces provides the only food-safe source assurance solution for bulk products that protect producers, processors, and consumers. We are committed to providing complete low-cost solutions that deliver results in minutes. Our solutions enable customers to gain full transparency into origin, protect their brand, and reduce processing and recall costs.

SafeTraces was founded in 2015 and has grown into an expert team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers dedicated to improving the food safety industry. SafeTraces’ technology is patent-protected with four issued US patents, two pending US applications, and two international PCT applications.

Learn more about SafeTraces at www.safetraces.com

SOURCE SafeTraces, Inc.

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SafeTraces Secures $6.5 Million Series A

SafeTraces Secures $6.5M in Series A

Date: October 19, 2017

PLEASANTON, CaliforniaOct. 19, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — SafeTraces, Inc., a San Francisco Bay Area based company that provides ground-breaking food source assurance solutions, announced that it completed a $6.5 million Series A financing round. Omidyar Network led the investment round with participation from existing and new investors, including UL Ventures, S2G Ventures, Maumee Ventures, City Light Capital, and Tuscan Management. The round brings SafeTraces’ total investment since launching its revolutionary food safety technology to $8.5 million and will enable the company to aggressively expand its sales efforts as well as accelerate its product development. SafeTraces welcomes Omidyar Network Venture Partner Rob Veres to its Board of Directors.

Omidyar Network, launched by eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar and Pam Omidyar, invests in innovative organizations to catalyze economic and social change. “SafeTraces provides innovative, low-cost solutions to improving food safety and reducing food waste at a time when the global food supply chain puts increasing pressure on food safety,” said Rob Veres, Venture Partner with Omidyar Network. “SafeTraces has a unique offering that we believe will have far-reaching benefits, ensuring the affordable integrity of food and other agricultural products.”

“SafeTraces’ commitment to advancing safety and transparency in the food supply chain aligns perfectly with UL’s mission of enabling safe living and working environments,” said Simin Zhou, VP & Managing Director of UL Ventures. “We are delighted to partner with SafeTraces to develop the next generation of assurance solutions.”

“We are excited to close this round with such a world-class syndicate of investors. Their expertise and understanding of market drivers in the global food industry are testament to the immediate demand for our solutions. Together, we will capture the market potential and build a great company,” said Anthony Zografos, SafeTraces Founder and CEO.

SafeTraces’ on-food source assurance solutions, SafeTracers™ and SaniTracers™, use seaweed DNA-based tags that provide producers, processors, and consumers with visibility into food origin and safety. SafeTracers™ are invisible, edible, tasteless FDA-approved barcodes that are applied directly to the food, not the cardboard, and deliver complete source information in minutes, instead of days or weeks as with conventional technologies. SaniTracers™ are food-safe DNA-based tags that behave like pathogens during produce sanitation and facility sanitization. They provide processors with an unprecedented level of transparency and confidence into their sanitization process, on-site and in minutes, rather than in hours or days as with existing off-site tests.

Key benefits of the SafeTraces solutions include:

  • Brand protection and reduced recalls costs for producers, processors, and wholesalers
  • Maintenance of supply chain integrity and transparency for importers, processors, and wholesalers
  • In-house control over food safety during food processing and sanitation
  • Source verification at the retail level to maintain consumer confidence

SafeTraces has exceeded growth plans to date and has already signed several large national and global commercial and pilot customers over the past six months.  In addition, the US FDA recently granted SafeTraces a prestigious multi-year SBIR Phase II grant to advance commercialization of SaniTracers™ for verification of sanitation of fresh produce. This grant is further proof that there is an urgent need for the SaniTracers™ solution in an environment where newly implemented government regulations (FSMA) put increased pressure on industry to improve their safety processes.

About SafeTraces

SafeTraces provides the only on-food source assurance solutions that protect producers, processors, and consumers. The company is committed to improving food safety by providing complete low-cost solutions that deliver results in minutes. Its solutions enable customers to gain full transparency into the food source, protect their brand, and reduce processing and recall costs.

SafeTraces was founded in 2013 by Anthony Zografos and has grown into an expert team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers dedicated to disrupting the food safety industry. SafeTraces’ technology is patent-protected with four issued US patents, two pending US applications, and two international PCT applications.

Learn more about SafeTraces at www.safetraces.com

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SOURCE SafeTraces, Inc.

This post originally appeared on PRN Newswire. Read it here.

SafeTraces raises funding to help market push

Featured in Confectionery News

Written by Joseph James Whitworth | September 1, 2016


SafeTraces has raised $1.5m via a funding round to accelerate product development, sales and marketing ahead of going to market by the end of this year.

The product is SafeTracers – an invisible, edible, tasteless DNA barcode – that can be applied on food as a coating to enable producers, processors and retailers to gain source and safety assurance.

Each set of microparticles has a unique DNA ‘barcode.’ By taking a swab of the surface, traceability information can be gained from the food.

It is applied in minute amounts, would not have to be labelled and starting materials are not known to be allergens.


Progress from last year and future plans

When we spoke to the room at the start of 2015, it was targeting end of that year for market launch and Anthony Zografos, founder and CEO, said it was doing pilot tests at the end of last year before it launched into the wider market.

There was also a name change last year from DNATrek to SafeTraces.

“The core product development is completed and we are fine-tuning for specific applications. We have three to four final customers interested in implementing it. One works with apples, one in palm oil, one in olive oil and the other in leafy greens,” he told FoodQualityNews.

“The idea is the customer generates unique barcodes on site and applies them on the product as part of the coating process or for others as part as washing.”

Zografos said it wants to have two or three core customers and commodities by next year.

“We are working with an apple producer in Washington State and hope to expand for adoption in this region, the same with the customer in leafy greens and the chocolate producer for tracing sustainable palm oil,” he said.

“We also have had discussions with a UK customer of ground beef. We tested the waters in the EU with ground beef, you need country by country approval, but we got preliminary approval.

“People we talk to are out of options… desperate for new technology and very open. New customers that are not desperate are very impressed that it exists but sometimes ask why they should pay for it and there is skepticism about the consumer reaction.

“FSMA [has boosted business] a little bit not a ton, most customers are not doing this for FSMA compliance, it is to meet business objectives – people have problem they want to solve.”

SafeTraces’ technology is patent-protected with four US patents, two pending US patents and two pending international patent applications.

SafeTracers are recognized as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by the FDA. The technology was developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.


How technology functions

How it is applied depends on what it is applied to with options include packaging, nutritional supplements, pharmaceuticals and skin care products.

It can be lifted off and analyzed using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) so a tainted apple can be traced back to the orchards.

“We have a small device it is slightly larger than a hand held barcode reader and you can read [the barcode] anywhere – in a plant, as a distributor, exporter or retailer,” said Zografos.

“It costs $1 per test and takes 15 minutes to determine the origin, contrast that with technology today that takes weeks.

“The bandwidth is very large, there is sufficient bandwidth to have the producer, lot date and for specific applications we can add more information by adjusting the bandwidth.

“We haven’t come across a product that it won’t work on, fresh seafood is very difficult and in terms of economics it might not be viable but we are trying to come up with a way.

“Every commodity, generally speaking, has a step in the processing where it can be applied, that lends itself to application of the barcode so there doesn’t have to be big changes.”

The round was led by Maumee Ventures, the VC arm of The Andersons, Inc. Elliott Grant, SafeTraces board member and CEO of Shopwell Labs, said assuring customers of origin, purity and safety are essential in today’s food industry.

“SafeTraces’ DNA-based approach is elegant and compelling, because it doesn’t force the food industry to add costly steps to their processes. Their solutions are perfectly timed to help growers, shippers, and manufacturers meet rising consumer expectations and the tougher regulatory environment.”


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This story originally appeared on Confectionery News. Read it here. 

Private Eyes in the Grocery Aisles

Featured in The New York Times


Date: April 4, 2015

Mansour Samadpour makes his way through the supermarket like a detective working a crime scene, slow, watchful, up one aisle and down the next. A clerk mistakenly assumes that he needs help, but Mr. Samadpour brushes him off. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

He buys organic raspberries that might test positive for pesticides and a fillet of wild-caught fish that might be neither wild nor the species listed on the label. He buys beef and pork ground fresh at the market. He is disappointed that there is no caviar, which might turn out to be something cheaper than sturgeon roe. That’s an easy case to crack.

Civilian shoppers see food when they go to the market. Mr. Samadpour, the chief executive of IEH Laboratories (short for Institute for Environmental Health), sees mystery, if not downright fraud. On this visit, he is shopping for goods he can test at his labs to demonstrate to a reporter that what you see on market shelves may not be what you get.

While he’s out of the office, he receives a call and dispatches a team on a more pressing expedition: They need to buy various products that contain cumin, because a client just found possible evidence of peanuts, a powerful allergen, in a cumin-based spice mix. The client wants a definitive answer before someone gets sick.

Suppliers, manufacturers and markets depend on Mr. Samadpour’s network of labs to test food for inadvertent contamination and deliberate fraud, or to verify if a product is organic or free of genetically modified organisms. Consumers, the last link in the chain, bet their very health on responsible practices along the way.

The annual cost of food-borne illnesses in the United States is $14.1 billion to $16.3 billion, according to a 2013 analysis by the Agriculture Department. The federal government has called for a shift from reaction, which usually means a large recall after people have fallen ill or died, to prevention, to reduce the number of such episodes. Wary customers want their food to be safe and genuine, and food retailers, who rely on a global array of suppliers, are looking for ways to protect their brands.

Food testing sits at the intersection of those desires. Mr. Samadpour, who opened IEH’s first lab in 2001 with six employees, now employs over 1,500 people at 116 labs in the United States and Europe. He refers to his company, one of the largest of its kind in the country, as “a privately financed public health organization.”

The Promise of DNA Tests

The two low-slung wooden buildings that house IEH’s labs at its base in Seattle feel more like a high school chemistry lab than the center of a national food security network; there’s an acrid smell, and the counters are crammed with vials of various shapes and colors, centrifuge machines and lined notebooks full of data entries.

This is where analysts coax DNA out of a tiny sample of whatever is being tested. For lethal threats, like E. coli O157 in ground beef, the detection process involves a grim recipe of ground beef and a broth infused with nutrients that E. coli likes to eat, put in a warm place to rest for 10 hours — at which point a single E. coli cell, if it exists, will have spawned one million easy-to-detect siblings. For fraud cases, the process is somewhat simpler; lab technicians run a DNA test or chemical analysis to confirm a sample’s identity.

Cheap technology has made this kind of testing possible. “Ten years ago, it would have taken millions of dollars to sequence a genome,” Mr. Samadpour says. “Now it takes $100. We do thousands a year.”

Business is booming — partly because IEH clients consider testing to be a gatekeeper defense in a multitiered food economy without borders. “We’re a lot more concerned about imports,” Mr. Samadpour says, because of “lack of accountability, lack of infrastructure, lack of a culture of food safety.” He says episodes like the 2008 discovery of the toxic chemical melamine in infant formula from China have contributed to a gradual shift in food manufacturers’ attitudes toward imports.

While the lab focuses primarily on safety issues like the cumin-and-peanut inquiry, there are enough fraud calls to support specialties among the lab technicians, like Kirthi Kutumbaka, referred to by his colleagues as “the emperor of fish” for his work on a seafood identification project. Once a fish is filleted, genetic testing is the only way to confirm its identity, making it a popular category for fraud.

IEH’s clients are primarily vendors who supply retailers and manufacturers, and they generally prefer to remain anonymous for fear of indicating to consumers that they have a specific worry about safety.

Costco is one of the retailers that use IEH’s services, and the company doesn’t mind talking about it.

“We have to inspect what we expect,” says Craig Wilson, the company’s vice president for quality assurance and food safety, meaning that products have to live up to their labels, particularly items in Costco’s own Kirkland Signature line.

Costco has a smaller margin of error than most food retailers; the company stocks only about 3,500 so-called S.K.U.s, or stock keeping units, while most retailers offer as many as 150,000. A single misstep is a far greater percentage of the whole. That’s why, in addition to retaining IEH, it operates its own 20-person testing lab.

“We’re not typical,” Mr. Wilson says. “We have one ketchup, one mayonnaise, one can of olives, Kirkland Signature olive oils and a couple of others.” Since 2003, the United States Department of Agriculture has required the testing of beef used for ground beef, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in cases of E. coli traced to beef consumption. Costco, which processes 600,000 to 700,000 pounds of ground beef daily, does extensive micro-sampling of the meat at its California facility, Mr. Wilson says.

The company expects its suppliers to absorb testing costs and gets no resistance, given the size of the resulting orders. Costco sells 157,000 rotisserie chickens a day. As Mr. Wilson put it: “If vendors get a bill for a couple hundred bucks on a $1 million order, who cares? They don’t.”

The sheer volume also enables Costco to demand action when there is a problem. After a 2006 outbreak of E. coli tied to Earthbound Farm’s ready-to-eat bagged spinach, in which three people died and more than 200 became ill, Mr. Wilson, one of Earthbound’s customers, instituted what he calls a “bag and hold” program for all of Costco’s fresh greens suppliers. He required the suppliers to test their produce and not ship it until they had the results of the tests.

Earthbound responded to the outbreak with a “multihurdle program that places as many barriers to food-borne illness as we can,” says Gary Thomas, the company’s senior vice president for integrated supply chain. Earthbound now conducts 200,000 tests annually on its ready-to-eat greens.

Not everyone was as quick to embrace change; some growers were concerned about losing shelf life while they waited for results. Mr. Wilson was unmoved by that argument. “If you can test and verify microbial safety, what do I care if I lose shelf life?” he says.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, intended to improve food safety practices, has been mired in missed deadlines, which have been attributed to food-industry concerns about overregulation and to an unrealistic timeline given the scope of the overhaul. The delays led to a lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Environmental Health, two advocacy groups. The F.D.A. and the Office of Management and Budget now operate under a court-ordered schedule that requires regulations to be issued in late 2015 and 2016.

The F.D.A. currently stops short of requiring produce tests, although it conducts its own “surveillance sampling,” according to Juli Putnam, an agency spokeswoman. The agency sees two drawbacks to mandatory tests: “A negative product test result does not necessarily indicate the absence of a hazard,” Ms. Putnam wrote in an email, because contamination might show up in another part of a field, and conducting more tests would increase the costs that are passed on to the consumer.

The agency is focused instead on defining minimum safety standards for “potential sources of microbiological contamination such as agricultural water, worker health and hygiene and animals in the growing area,” she wrote (though some preventive testing is conducted on sprouts).

Mr. Wilson says he uses government guidelines “as a minimum standard, and I always try to go above and beyond that.”

DNATrek, a newcomer to the field, sees opportunity in another aspect of food safety testing: the need to quickly pinpoint the source of a pathogen outbreak, to avoid delays and unnecessarily broad recalls. Anthony Zografos, the company’s chief executive, says it soon plans to introduce a test called DNATrax, which will be able to identify the source of contaminated produce within an hour, narrowing recall efforts “to a specific field or packer or distributor.” The test relies on tracer DNA that is dissolved in the liquid coating applied to many types of produce after harvest or added to prepared foods; it provides a unique genetic fingerprint.

George Farquar, a chemist and Mr. Zografos’s partner in the company, was looking for ways to trace airborne contaminants as part of a national security project financed by the Defense Department when he realized that the work could be applied to food safety. He and Mr. Zografos licensed the technology from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he was conducting the research, and it will receive royalties from sales of the test. Mr. Zografos says that DNATrax will offer traceability for most types of field produce at a price of about $1 for 1,000 pounds.

Tracking Down Fraud

Food safety is a yes-or-no proposition — either there is a contaminant or there isn’t. Food fraud, a smaller segment of the universe of problem foods, is harder to detect because it can take so many forms. Fish from a country whose imports have been banned might arrive at the market labeled with a different country of origin, honey might be cut with cheaper extenders, and saffron might not even be saffron.

When asked if fake food has ever crossed the threshold at Costco, Mr. Wilson smiles and says, “I’m going to go with ‘no,’ but you’re not going to believe me entirely. Yes, there have been egregious things, and we’ve taken care of them, and that’s that.”

Olive oil is a popular target for fraud because there are several ways to charge more for less. Compliance with United States Department of Agriculture quality standards for extra-virgin olive oil is voluntary. Unless a supplier pays for testing, passes and puts a U.S.D.A.-certified sticker on the bottle, consumers have no way to know whether they got extra-virgin olive oil. Any grade of olive oil can be doctored with cheap filler oils like canola, because they have no flavor. And the country of origin listed on the label isn’t always where the contents are from.

About five years ago, Mr. Wilson decided it was time to send an employee to Tuscany to collect leaves from Tuscan olive trees. Costco now has an index of DNA information on “all the cultivars of Tuscan olive oil, about 16 different ones,” he says. “When they harvest and press, we do our DNA testing.”

A group of undergraduates at the University of California, Davis, has developed the OliView, a biosensor that can detect rancid or adulterated olive oil. They expect to have the device ready for sale, at $60 to $80, in 18 months to two years. “At the supermarket level, we found that a lot of times the oil was just old and rancid,” says Selina Wang, research director at the U.C. Davis Olive Center and one of the students’ advisers, “but there were also samples labeled extra virgin that were actually a little bit of virgin olive oil mixed with refined olive oil.”

Adulterated oil, more common among imports, can stump even food professionals. Ms. Wang says that at the center, they “have seen samples with as much as 70 percent canola oil.”

DNATrek has also developed a test for products where fraud is a temptation — “high-value stuff, truffles, saffron, premium juices, honey, seafood and olive oil,” Mr. Zografos says.

Mr. Samadpour says that in multi-ingredient products, the source of trickery is usually hidden further down the food chain than the name on the package. “It’s not the top people who get involved in economic adulteration,” he says. “It’s someone lower down who sees a way to save a penny here or there. Maybe it’s 2 or 3 cents, but if you sell a million units, that’s $20,000 to $30,000.”

Consumer Vigilance

As with most expanding technologies, there are believers and skeptics. David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at the 111-year-old United Fresh Produce Association, echoes the position of the Food and Drug Administration: Testing is not a sufficient answer for his members, who include anyone engaged in the fresh produce industry, “from guys who come up with seeds to growers, shippers, fresh-cut processors, restaurants and grocery stores, everyone from beginning to end,” from small organic farms to Monsanto.

Their common ground, he says, is a commitment to food safety — but members disagree on how to achieve it, including Mr. Gombas and Mr. Samadpour, who are both microbiologists. “Microbiological testing provides a false sense of security,” Mr. Gombas says. “They can find one dead salmonella cell on a watermelon, but what does that tell you about the rest of the watermelon in the field? Nothing.”

Testing has its place, he says, but as backup for “good practices and environmental monitoring,” which includes things as diverse as employee hygiene and site visits. “I’m a fan of testing,” he says, “if something funny’s going on.” Otherwise, he has taken on the role of contrarian. “People think testing means something. When I say it doesn’t, they smile, nod and keep testing.”

Mr. Samadpour says sampling “can reduce the risk tremendously but can never 100 percent eliminate it,” but he will take a tremendous reduction over a food crisis any day. The government’s “indirect” stance, which mandates safety but does not require testing, allows companies to interpret safe practices on “a spectrum,” he says, “from bare minimum to sophisticated programs,” and he worries about safety at the low end of that range.

He says consumer vigilance is the best defense against the selling of groceries under bare minimum standards.

IEH tested the contents of Mr. Samadpour’s grocery cart:

The organic raspberries showed 0.12 parts per million of spinosyn A, an insecticide available in both organic and synthetic formulations. Mr. Samadpour’s test cannot distinguish between organic and synthetic spinosyn A, but the tolerance level is the same for both: 0.7 parts per million. Assuming the organic raspberries were treated with the organic formulation, the residue was well within tolerance.

The beef and pork were cross-contaminated — each had amounts of the other — a common occurrence, he says, when markets grind first one batch of meat and then the other. These were small amounts as well, but their presence could upset a Muslim or Jewish customer who does not eat pork, or a Hindu who does not eat beef. The fish was what the label said it was.

As for the cumin and the peanuts, the F.D.A. posted a handful of product recalls, all of them involving cumin and peanuts, including Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms chipotle black bean burgers, which Mr. Wilson removed from Costco’s shelves.

The recalls continued for weeks, until the F.D.A. issued a blanket statement “advising people who are highly allergic to peanuts to consider avoiding products that contain ground cumin or cumin powder, because some shipments of these products have tested positive for undeclared peanut protein. People who are highly allergic or sensitive to peanuts may be at risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction.”

Inside the labs, reaction was more world-weary than panicked; this was business as usual.

“Other than the label somebody’s written,” Mr. Farquar says, “you really have no idea where your food’s coming from.”

Mr. Samadpour, having been at this far longer, is more philosophical. “I eat street food when I travel,” he says. “One can’t become a microbe-phobe.”

This post originally appeared on NY Times. Read it here.