Dear Clean Food Followers and Tellspec Pioneers!

Since our last update, we’ve been working very hard to develop our TellSpec food scanner with the Texas Instruments DLP chipset. We have engaged optical specialists to miniaturize the optical design for the DLP chip-set, and retained design houses to develop for mechanical and electrical design to be integrated with the DLP optical design. Meanwhile we have been strengthening our algorithms with further strategies, and started porting our software to address scalability. In addition, we have been collecting more food data for the TellSpec food databank.

We’ve made meaningful progress on a number of fronts and have added significant human resources including a VP of Software, two machine learning specialists, and a quantitative analyst and developer, as well as several food testers to our team.

Unfortunately, miniaturization using TI DLP chipset has been more difficult than expected. So we are currently finalizing a feasibility study to give us answers on whether it is possible to use the current DLP technology and deliver a size that is acceptable to the consumer. We want everyone to understand that TellSpec is still very committed to the TI’s DLP technology.

As a result, we have made alternative arrangements to work with a global leader in optical sensing technologies to concurrently develop the beta and developer versions of TellSpec’s food scanners. This alternative does not use DLP technology but it will also be an NIR spectrometer with the same 900-1700 nm wavelengths. This alternative technology, which will be delivered to ONLY beta testers and developers, will still run our food analysis algorithms but these units may be a larger size than previously expected. Although the beta and developer versions are not using DLP technology, we are still very committed to delivering to end users the DLP technology in our future version, pending, of course, the results of current feasibility study.


With this in mind, TellSpec’s goal is to be similar to Microsoft’s open operating system where our food analysis algorithm will be easily used with data collected by any NIR spectrometer hardware with the same wavelength. We welcome groups to discuss with us how to license our food analysis engine.

If you are the select group of special customers who Pre-Ordered our scanners; we will start to ship the first sets of TellSpec scanners by the end of the 1st Quarter in 2015. Other consumers wanting to pre-order a scanner will have to wait until later this year to be able to so. No additional Pre-Orders are being processed until later this year.

Thank you for continuing to motivate and inspire us. We also want to thank Texas Instruments for collaborating with us very closely and continuing to support our clean food mission.

Isabel Hoffman, Founder and CEO of TellSpec, Inc.

Talking Trans Fats

Trans fat. By this time, surely a pair of words that brings up thoughts of ill health, negative effects, and disease. Research within the past decades has brought to light the risks associated with intake of trans fats, to the point where labelling has become mandatory and many institutions have called for outright bans of trans fat. Today TellSpec will be discussing what trans fats are, exactly; what health effects are associated with intake; where they are found; and a brief discussion of artificial vs natural trans fats.

What is a trans fat? The word trans refers to the actual configuration of the fatty acid. Molecules of fat contain fatty acids, chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms; the arrangement and number of these atoms is what makes for different fatty acids. A trans fat contains one or more double bonds in trans geometric configuration—a technical description, but essentially it means that the fatty acid is straight. A straight fatty acid will align more closely with another straight fatty acid, meaning that that fat will be more solid at room temperature. So we can see why shelf-stable foods tend to contain more trans fats—manufacturers want fats that will stay solid at room temperature and have a longer shelf-life.


Hydrogenation is a term commonly linked to trans fats. Hydrogenated fats are straight-chained and solid at room temperature. Compared to butter, a solidified vegetable oi is much cheaper and less likely to go rancid. It is important to note that a hydrogenated fat is not the same as a trans fat—ideally a hydrogenated fat has been fully hydrogenated, that is, saturated with hydrogen atoms, so no carbon double bonds are present. As mentioned, trans fats have one or more double bonds. However, artificial trans fats are a commonly produced during the hydrogenation process; therefore hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as ingredients will typically introduce trans fats into the product.
This is obviously a fairly technical description, but what does this all mean to the consumer?

Trans fats have been investigated heavily in the past few years. Particularly after the fiasco of hydrogenated vegetable oil margarines which contained trans fats being promoted as far healthier than butter with its high saturated fat. This came under fire with the discovery that the trans fats in those early brands of margarine were quite dangerous (as well as recent research that has taken saturated fat down from the position of indisputable villainy.) Most manufacturers have reformulated their spreads to contain minimal or no trans fats, however the nutrition and ingredients labels are the best guide. As far as whether margarine or butter is “superior”, the debate over each one’s pros and cons continues.
Consumption of trans fats is shown to increase risk of coronary heart disease: the ratio of good and bad cholesterols in the bloodstream is negatively skewed, the amount of triglycerides (fats) in the bloodstream is increased, and system-wide inflammation is encouraged. Trans fat intake impacts the body’s ability to utilize essential fatty acids such as Omega 3s. It has been shown to promote obesity and abdominal fat deposition in animals, even when fed the same number of calories as the control. Trans fat intake has also been associated with the development of Type 2 Diabetes, including studies showing abnormally increased insulin levels after eating a trans fat-containing meal. Furthermore, as trans fats are so commonly found in highly processed foods, the health risks associated with such a diet, which is likely high in overall fat, sugar, and sodium, are only compounded by the trans fat.


So where does the consumer look to locate trans fats? Among others: processed snack cakes, frostings, peanut butters, chocolates, candies, fried foods, chips, even bread. Ultimately however, it’s the ingredients label that is your best guide: key words include partially hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated oil. Pay particular notice to partially hydrogenated. Scanning the ingredients list is essential as certain labelling laws regarding trans fat vary. For example, in Canada trans fat labelling is mandatory even below 0.2g per serving. In Australia, the UK, France, and Germany labelling is entirely optional, whereas other countries such as Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland mandate that trans fats may not exceed 2% of the total fat content. In the US, labelling is mandatory, however foods containing less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving can be labelled as trans fat-free. As serving sizes are distorted and even trace trans fats are hazardous, consumers must take initiative.

Finally, trans fats can be found naturally occurring in animal products from ruminants such as cows, specifically meat and dairy. For example, 1 cup of 2% milk contains 0.2g of naturally occurring trans fat. These natural trans fats, rather than those artificially produced through hydrogenation, include vaccenic acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is sold as a health supplement and has been promoted as able to aid in reduction of body fat. Vaccenic acid is itself a precursor to CLA and some studies have suggested it to have beneficial health effects. Overall, however, the research, particularly in humans, is limited and governing bodies maintain that all trans fat intake should be kept at a minimum.

Allura Acrylamide Atrazine

What do Allura Red, acrylamide, and atrazine have in common? (Aside from alliteration, of course). These three compounds are among the most prevalent within their class of chemicals and have gone under the consumer radar for years. Allura Red is the most popular red food dye; acrylamide can be found in the most popular carbohydrate-rich foods we consume; and atrazine is among the most popular pesticides used in corn crops—itself an incredibly widespread food. Today TellSpec is finally bringing these baddies into the light.

Allura Red AC, otherwise known as Red 40, is the most commonly used red food dye. Derived from petroleum, Allura Red is an azo dye that contains benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen. While studies of toxicity in animals have shown negative effects primarily at very high intake, case reports of human health effects differ somewhat. Indeed recent studies have suggested that consumption of artificial dyes, including Allura Red, in combination with benzoates, a type of preservative, can lead to hyperactive behaviour in children. Now this sounds like a fairly far-fetched concern, however given the prevalence of Allura Red in processed foods–processed foods which are likely to contain benzoate preservatives. Notably, sodium benzoate is used in acidic foods like salad dressings, soft drinks, fruit juice, and jam–all of which are prime targets for a dash of Allura to punch up the Red. Interestingly, Allura Red’s usage is discouraged in Europe and outright banned in certain countries, such as Denmark, Belgium, France, and Switzerland. It is also forbidden from use in animal feed due to concerns over its potential to interact with genetic material.

Whereas Allura’s status as an additive is fairly recent, acrylamide is something that has, as far as we know, been present in food for as long as we’ve been heating our carbohydrate sources–but it is only now coming under scrutiny. Acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical that develops when high-starch foods meet high-heat (above 248oF or 120oC) cooking (though it is also present in less starchy foods like coffee and high fructose corn syrup.) Baking, frying, grilling, and roasting are associated with the greatest level of acrylamide production, whereas boiling and microwaving starches appears not to generate the compound. Generally speaking, the more browned the starch, the greater its acrylamide content. Something to consider when reaching for another slice of bread, with it’s golden crust, let alone tossing it into the toaster. So why are we focusing now on something that’s been around for ages? Because acrylamide has been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans; high intake has shown neurotoxic effects in humans, including cognitive impairment, muscle weakness, and loss of motor control; and the compound can cross the placenta to interact with the fetus–and maternal acrylamide intake has been associated with low birth weight and poor fetal growth, both of which are predictors for later health risks.

We can see Allura by its distinctive colour, and the golden hue and cooking method gives us a clue about acrylamide, but atrazine is undetectable to the ill-equipped consumer. Atrazine is an herbicide and pesticide, used in a great variety of crops to prevent weed growth. In fact it is reported to be one of the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the US (and Australia… the European Union has banned it entirely) and one of the most common pesticide contaminants of drinking water. What crops are the prime targets and of most relevance to consumers? Sugarcane, canola, and corn–and what processed foods don’t contain sugar, vegetable oils, and corn in some form, be that starch or syrup? Of course atrazine would be present in trace amounts, but awareness is important when we consider the health effects. Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor: it inhibits testosterone production in male rats; it disrupts communication between the brain and ovaries in female rats, likewise interfering with hormone production; and it leads to hermaphroditism in frogs. Atrazine alters thyroid function and levels of corticosteroid hormones–even at the low concentrations expected in ground water. Atrazine exposure has been linked in humans to increased risk of low birth weight and premature birth and impaired fetal development, including malformation of the genitals. Atrazine is also carcinogenic, having induced a variety of types of tumors (including a link to ovarian cancer) in rodent studies, and possibly obesogenic, having been associated with increased body mass and insulin resistance.

So what can the consumer do to avoid these chemicals? For Allura Red, read your labels and accept a duller colour to your food. For acrylamide, while it is important to recall that this compound has always been around, being moderate in one’s consumption of starchy foods (particularly ones best served baked, roasted, or toasted) is an option. For atrazine, invisible that it is, short of lobbying our governments to change their stance on their favourite helper in the corn field, consumers must unfailingly choose organic and settle for uncertainty regarding trace amounts throughout the food stream.


Food and Chemical Toxicology
Food and Chemical Toxicology 2
The New Yorker
Environmental Health Perspectives
The Lancet
Food Additives & Contaminants
The UK Food Guide
Food Standards Agency
Environmental Health Perspectives 2
Environmental Health Perspectives 3
Environmental Health Perspectives 4
European Commission Institute for Health and Consumer Protection
Reproductive Toxicology
Toxicology and Sciences
Toxicology and Industrial Health
Environmental Research
Public Health Reports
Toxicology in Vitro
American Journal of Medical Genetics
Annual Review of Public Health
Environmental Health Perspectives 5

Search your food labels for these dirty ingredients!


Trans fats (i.e. hydrogenated vegetable oil) are often artificially produced and can be found in ice cream, shelf-stable pastries, fried foods, cheese and milk. Problematically, those with diets high in consumption of trans fats show decreased cardiovascular health and increased inflammation, obesity, and insulin sensitivity – making it important to avoid consumption of this additive. Many countries have enforced a ban on trans fats; recently California has prohibited their use in restaurants and food establishments.

The Journal of Nutrition
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The New England Journal of Medicine
Danish Health and Medicines Authority


Potassium bromate is found in bread-flour and flour-containing foods where it is used to treat and improve bread dough. Problematically, potassium bromate is potentially carcinogenic and has been shown to induce DNA mutations in rats. Other studies elucidate the damaging effects of potassium bromate on white blood cells, kidney function and hearing capacity. If bread is not cooked sufficiently, residual potassium bromate may remain. Because of its danger, potassium bromate has been prohibited from food in the EU, Canada, Brazil, and China. Consumers within the United States and other countries allowing the use of potassium bromate should be cautious as to their consumption of this chemical.

Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis
Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery
Environmental Health Perspectives
OEHHA Office of Environment Health Hazard Assessment


Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) contains the atomic element bromine and is used to solubilize citrus oils within soft drinks. In the United States, the use of BVO has been limited to 15ppm although it is currently still used in Mountain Dew, Powerade, and Fanta Orange among other drinks. Excess consumption of BVO notes adverse effects as consumers have reported memory loss, tremors, fatigue, loss of coordination, and headache that were reversed upon removal of bromine from within the body. Avoid BVO consumption whenever possible.

Food Chemistry
The New York Times


Propyl gallate is an antioxidant that prevents the oxidation of foods containing oils and fats. One study conducted in 2009 found that propyl gallate may inhibit the action of estrogen – causing problematic effects by disrupting regulation of the body’s hormone levels. As a result, the study recommends caution in the use of the additive. Consumption of propyl gallate has also been associated with stomach and skin irritability in addition to allergic reactions – making it an important chemical to avoid.

Chemical Research in Toxicology


While BPA (bisphenol-A) is a synthetic compound found in plastic containers, it has been found to leak into the foods and liquids located within. BPA acts similarly to estrogen within the body – binding to the estradiol receptor. Having hormone modulating effects, BPA has been shown to induce harmful concerns in animals – lowering the age of puberty onset, disrupting sexual organ development and increasing the risk of cancer. In addition to this, BPA may also interfere with the thyroid gland – one of the centers of metabolic regulation. As a result, the US FDA has removed BPA from use, but this chemical still remains within Canada and the EU. To avoid harmful side effects, be cautious as to the use and purchase of packaging containing BPA.

CHIMIA International Journal for Chemistry
Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science
Journal of Health Science