BactuSense | Detecting pathogens in food

Food Tech is a hot industry, and The Kitchen is a Food Tech incubator that successfully confronts some of the industry’s most cutting-edge challenges.

“Each year, we’ll invest in three or four promising Food Tech start-ups”, says Jonathan Berger, CEO of The Kitchen. “Each company receives individual support from the incubator staff and a team of experts that Strauss Group, with its vast pool of knowledge, makes available to us. We can provide startups with know-how and expertise on every issue that challenges them – from food engineering to regulation, and from manufacturing to marketing and consumer behavior. We offer advice and know-how free of charge, as part of the support the incubator provides to its portfolio companies. The startups can also benefit from Strauss Group’s global contacts, which include PepsiCo, Danone, other multinational food giants, and even conglomerates such as [Chinese consumer electronics company] Haier.”

Anya Eldan, Director of the Israel Innovation Authority's Startup Division, adds: “The Israel Innovation Authority’s incubator program gives technological and biotech start-ups a platform for innovation, and it makes them visible to Israeli and foreign corporations, mainly for the added value that they can bring to the incubator’s start-ups. The Kitchen is an independent incubator, but its startups benefit from Strauss Group’s global contacts and from access to technological infrastructure, market knowledge, marketing channels, and specialized expertise. A startup requires all those things to succeed, and Israeli startups in the food sector haven’t had them available. Thanks to the incubator, which was set up with the Authority’s support, Israel has a new Food Tech ecosystem that it didn’t have just a few years ago.”

A microchip that identifies bacteria in food

“Last summer, Salmonella was found in cornflakes. That was all the public relations we needed,” says Eyal Yoskovitz, CEO of BactuSense Technologies. Another of The Kitchen’s start-ups, Yoskovitz’s company is developing a near-real-time technology for detecting and identifying live bacteria in food products.

“My entrepreneurial job is easy,” he says, “because I don’t have to convince anyone in any company that they need what we’re developing. The market is hungry for a solution.” There is a small group of disease-causing bacteria, or pathogens, responsible for most of the problems. The most well-known are Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.

“The damage that can be caused to food manufacturers is not only the cost of recalling products, but also the burden of storage costs, and the loss of sales. There’s also the immense damage to their reputation,” explains Yoskovitz. “Companies can easily be bankrupted by such incidents.”

Every food product in Israel must be tested for pathogens. Today, the tests require two to three days of letting bacteria grow. Faster methods do exist, but they are much more expensive.

The BactuSense solution consists of two parts: a microchip and an optical sensor. “The chip is full of tiny holes that trap bacteria,” explains Yoskovitz. “The chip is coated with a special material where the bacteria settle. They enter the holes and are trapped there. When light is reflected, the trapped bacteria change the light slightly. The sensor picks up the difference and decodes it, and the detector says: ‘Bacteria alert!’

“Our technology can detect small concentrations of bacteria. Our goal is to identify as few as 100 bacteria per milliliter. That’s low density, but the industry would rather catch bacteria without waiting for them to multiply. The advantage of our product is that it produces results quickly and it’s easy to operate. And the beauty of our solution is that it can tell dead bacteria from live bacteria. By adjusting the chip, we can also target only a particular type of bacteria.

BactuSense

“With the help of Strauss Group quality assurance experts, we can choose objectives for the development process. We’ve targeted low cost,” says Yoskovitz, “and we can achieve that. Our components are inexpensive, our production methods are familiar ones, and the chemical coating isn’t complicated. Today’s market stresses the need for a solution like ours. Clean, healthy food is the focus of increasing legislation, regulation, and public demand. Regarding market size, we’re talking about reaching a food testing market of $15–20 billion within five years.”