Sensor to cut food and plastic waste

Senoptica’s sensor tests oxygen levels in packaging in a bid to tackle waste, writes Trish Dromey

Sensor to cut food and plastic waste

Senoptica’s sensor tests oxygen levels in packaging in a bid to tackle waste, writes Trish Dromey

Senoptica Technologies, a one-year-old start-up, aims to help reduce food and plastic packaging waste and thereby save money for food producers and retailers.

It has a sensor that can test the oxygen level inside food packaging to ensure it contains the modified air used to keep the food fresh until its sell-by date.

“Failed packaging is a major issue. It results in the spoilage of over 3% of the 177bn food packs being produced globally every year,’’ said company chief executive, Brendan Rice, who co-founded the Dublin-based company in July 2018.

He said that the only checks currently available for packaging involve the destructive sample-testing of a small number of all packs produced. This results in the sample packaging having to be thrown away and the creation of additional plastic waste.

“Senoptica’s solution is an ink formulation, which acts as an oxygen sensor and can be incorporated into the packaging. The food processor scans every pack containing the sensor, before it leaves the factory, to ensure that the oxygen level in each is correct. This means that faulty packs are less likely to enter into the food-supply chain,” he said.

This has the potential to dramatically reduce food spoilage and plastic wastage, says Mr Rice, while also eliminating the need for production facilities to carry out destructive pack-testing.

“Once the oxygen sensor has been added, the pack can be checked at any point in the chain to the supermarket shelf,” he said.

Just 15 months after setting up, Senoptica is carrying out paid trials with one of Europe’s largest meat processors and is in negotiations with several global food companies.

It is also in the final stages of negotiating a €1.5m investment round, which will allow it to launch on the market in early 2021.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a sensor in every one of the 177bn food packs produced every year,” said Mr Rice, who plans to start by targeting the meat-processing industry, because meat spoilage has one of the highest levels of food-safety risk.

He says that failed packaging in the meat industry now accounts for €8.6bn of wastage a year globally.

Although the oxygen sensor idea might seem relatively simple, the development of the technology took five years at the School of Chemistry and AMBER, at the SFI Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin, and is patent pending.

Company co-founder, Rachel Evans, first thought of creating an oxygen sensor nearly 20 years ago, while working on her doctorate.

Securing assistance of €550,000 in funding from Enterprise Ireland, she started work on developing the technology in 2013 and was joined in 2014 by Senoptica co-founder, Steve Comby.

Mr Rice, who has 20 years’ experience in the food industry, came on board in early 2018 and has led the spin-out of the company from Trinity College.

Participating in the NDRC Venture Lab Accelerator Programme and securing €200,000 in funding, Mr Rice and Mr Comby have since worked on commercialising the technology.

Expecting to conclude fundraising round by the end of November, the company plans to hire three staff in 2020 and secure regulatory approval in Europe.

“In early 2021, we are planning a launch in the UK and Ireland. The longer-term plan will be to move into the US market,” said Mr Rice.

He said Senoptica will operate by selling the sensor ink to packaging suppliers and food companies. “It can be printed into the packaging or onto a label that is attached to the packaging and will cost just a fraction of a cent per pack,” he said.

Senoptica’s technology is already attracting the attention of major international food companies, said Mr Rice. “In addition to reducing both food and plastic packaging waste, this novel technology can ensure that the food we eat is safer,” he said. Senoptica is also a regional finalist in this year’s Intertrade Ireland Seedcorn competition.

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