One of my friends told me how to wash the grapes before having them. You search on the internet, and you will get something like this (similar to I was told): “ hold the grapes under running water for 30 seconds, rubbing them gently as you rinse them off. Then, put your grapes in a clean bowl and fill the bowl with cool, clean water. Add a third part white vinegar until the grapes are completely covered. Allow them to soak for 20 minutes to get rid of pesticides”.
Even if you are fine to do this every time you have the grapes, wouldn’t you doubt your method searched on the internet, told by a friend or read on social networking sites as a fool-proof method?
With this, you would probably go for organic fruits and vegetables. They would cost three times the conventionally grown ones. You are ready to pay the price for fruits and vegetables free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, but how to be sure of the residue content in the ‘organic’ labelled fruits and vegetables? There are enough examples around to suspect the integrity and ethics of people involved.
What could the solution be?
The first solution is that the government regulates the availability of the synthetic and harmful fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides that they are not available to the farmers. I won’t go into the details but this is very difficult for multiple reasons (e.g. EPA will not ban pesticides that can harm kids’ brains).
The second one is to give the power to the consumer to correctly identify and select what they would like to have – organic or conventional, what level of residues. The consumer needed to be provided with technology to find out whether fruits and vegetables available in the market have more than permissible limits of a particular chemical substance or they are completely organically grown.
Consumer push can be very effective and can even lead to the government banning a few chemicals that are hazardous.
Near Infra-Red (NIR) spectrum is very important to build technology around the food safety and identification of the chemicals. Absorption and reflective spectroscopy is used for analyte predictions. Absorption spectroscopy is usually used for liquids, where the NIR wavelength light is passed through the liquid and a spectrometer measures what is absorbed by the liquid it passes through, then using the machine learning and AI techniques you can build a model to identify the chemicals present in the liquid. Similarly, for the solids, reflective spectroscopy is used and the data collected can be used for building Machine Learning models to identify the chemicals present at the surface of fruits and vegetables.
In the past few months, I have been researching on this topic and found that there are professors in some universities working in these areas. Though there are fewer players in the industry, companies in Israel developing products to address similar problems.
I also talked to organic farmers and shopkeepers, growing and selling organic food in order to know the ground truth and I was surprised to hear that there are no easy methods available for them; for the consumer absolutely nothing. There are many individuals and media put their reports, reaction, anguish, helplessness over the hazardous contents in fruits and vegetables (also dairy and meat). What is the logical next step?
The technology has to go into consumers hands.