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Portable scanner to reveal nutritional value of foods

A portable food scanner could tell you how much fat is in the food you eat. Image: Shutterstock/ gkrphoto
A portable food scanner could tell you how much fat is in the food you eat. Image: Shutterstock/ gkrphoto

A personal scanner that reveals the nutritional value of your food could soon be helping you to eat healthily, thanks to a EUR 1 million prize that is being offered to the inventors who come up with the best working prototype. 

The scanner will be able to identify whether your sausages, burgers or croissants contain too much fat and salt, and even pick out traces of nuts or gluten.

It’s one of five Horizon Prizes where money is offered to inventors and developers who create a specific technology.

‘Healthy eating is a key way of limiting certain diseases like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,’ said EU project officer Gerald Cultot, who was involved in designing the terms of the prize.

‘There are these fitness apps which tell you how much energy you have spent, but you don’t have that many apps that tell you how much you have consumed, so it’s really about going to the other side of the spectrum and helping people to better measure their food intake,’ he said.

‘It’s really about going to the other side of the spectrum and helping people to better measure their food intake.’

Gerald Cultot, European Commission

The EUR 1 million prize will be split into a maximum of three awards - EUR 800 000 for the winner, and EUR 100 000 each to the first and second runner-ups.

In order to win the prize, the prototype needs to be able to analyse food composition, nutrition facts and potentially harmful ingredients such as allergens.

That's a major issue because about 17 million Europeans suffer from food allergies, with 3.5 million of them less than 25 years of age, according to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Horizon Prizes

The idea behind the Horizon Prizes is that they could attract people who might not apply for a standard research project, which are usually awarded to international research consortiums.

The foodscanner prize follows a prize for a bacteria test announced in February, prizes for better sharing of wireless bandwidth and for higher speed optical data transmission announced in March, and materials that can improve the air quality of cities in April.

‘With the prize contest we want to bring people to join our programmes that usually wouldn’t apply,’ said Barbara Kowatsch, an EU officer who has helped develop the new funding instrument. 

The prizes are seen as an ongoing method for the EU to stimulate innovation. Next year's prizes will be announced in the autumn. ‘Every year we target to have ambitious prizes in areas related to societal challenges,’ said Kowatsch. 

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