Hologram labels make their marks to insure food purity

The HoloPointT system – We provide the foolproof evidence that the meat that was born health, was raised healthy, and slaughtered healthy, arrives at your home healthy.Israel Sar-El claims to have a foolproof system to prevent contaminated chicken, beef and …

The HoloPointT system – We provide the foolproof evidence that the meat that was born health, was raised healthy, and slaughtered healthy, arrives at your home healthy.Israel Sar-El claims to have a foolproof system to prevent contaminated chicken, beef and other food from reaching your plate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Sar-El’s HoloPointT system – installed on the processing line just before final packing – ensures the authenticity of poultry, beef and fish, and just about any other food product. As pieces of meat or chicken pass through the line, the HoloPoinT system attaches a hologram label, which Sar-El says cannot be altered, counterfeited or tampered with.

Sar-El told ISRAEL21c that the possibility that tainted food is reaching consumers is a problem that has kept him up at nights. Sitting down last week to explain the history of HoloPointT, the retired colonel from the Israel Defense Forces offers a relaxed smile.

“Everybody calls me Sar-el,” he said while handing over a business card featuring only his last name and first initial. “You get used to using last names in the army.”

Backing up the assertion made last week by Microsoft founder Bill Gates that the IDF provides a fertile breeding ground for new technologies, Sar-El said it was there that he gained experience in analytical thinking and looking for solutions to problems.

“The army enables you to look at problems from different angles, and I learned to not look at what something does, but what it could do.”

Sar-El explained that upon his retirement from the IDF five years ago, he became increasingly obsessed with what he perceived to be a basic unsolved problem in the world – the lack of supervision of the food we eat.

“It kept me up at nights, and gave me stomach aches. There is food that people eat with approved markings that are for all intent and purposes poison – and it gets to our tables. As a consumer, I’m taught that if I check the label and it has a seal of approval or expiration date, or for people who keep kosher, a kashrut certificate, then I can feel safe and eat it.”

However, current methods of stickers on or in the packaging, or metal rings around a chicken’s leg, can be easily forged, Sar-El said.

“During the last few years, the means to counterfeit label markings have gotten much more sophisticated. Any kind of paper markings or stickers can be duplicated in your office on a laser printer and scanner. On the other hand, the means of preventing such tampering and counterfeiting have not improved,” Sar-El told ISRAEL21c.

“They’re still using the same manual technology of placing those metal tags on the legs of a chicken which supposedly give it approval of freshness – is that technology?”

“What really triggered my decision to get involved was seeing a documentary which showed a cow lying dead on the side of the road, and how that corpse ended up as meat in a supermarket. Everyone from the meat supplier to the retail outlet to the consumer had no idea.”

Sar-El quickly picked up the pace of his research and discovered that there was no method that exists that supervised the process from beginning to end of growing meat or chicken from the farm to the slaughterhouse to the market to the home.

“From the moment it leaves the slaughterhouse, there’s a breach in supervision – it’s like there’s a leak in the supply pipe. How do you know that the carton of chicken wasn’t taken out of the refrigerated truck, left in the sun for five hours, and then returned to the truck? What I set out to do was to find a way to seal that leak,” he said.

Sar-El founded HoloPoinT through funding from the Chief Scientist’s Office and the Yozmot-Granot technological incubator, one of many government-supported programs for startup companies in a variety of industries.

Utilizing some of the country’s top engineers, he has spent three years developing the HoloPoinT system, and over a year ago s left the umbrella of Yozmot-Granot. He said that the system is now fully functional and ready to installed at processing plants around the world.

“What we’ve accomplished is two fold. We’ve created a system that attaches hologram markings on food that are impossible to counterfeit or tamper with – so the consumer can be 100% certain that he’s getting what he thinks he’s buying.

“At the same time, we’ve created a technology that automates the process of tagging meat and chicken on the assembly line, a process which today is done by hand, thus saving manufacturers money and insuring 100% reliability in their product. We provide the foolproof evidence that the meat that was born health, was raised healthy , and slaughtered healthy, arrives at your home healthy,” said Sar-El.

In addition to the microwave-safe tags and the non-forgeable hologram, the HoloPoint system contains critical data such as traceability information via a color-coded Time Temperature Indicator (TTI).

“With the TTI, you can be sure that the meat your supermarket is receiving wasn’t left in the sun on the way and spoiled. It’s a complete history of the shipment from the time the meat leaves the slaughterhouse, and any variation from the norm will be indicated,” said Sar-El.
He added that the HoloPoinT system doesn’t necessitate changing the existing production assembly, and since it costs less than 5 cents per item, it will immediately save manufacturers considerable costs.

“Someone who today is paying a worker to place metal tags on chickens is spending more money that this will cost. What we’re trying to do is find solution that aren’t revolutions in the method of production, but to cause a revolution in the results.

“Meat manufacturers will benefit by being able to expand the expiration date on their products. Fresh meat – because there is no indication of when it’s slaughtered – has the shortest shelf life imaginable. For example if the acceptable life span at the correct temperature is 2x, then they set the expiration date a 1/2x, because they don’t want to take any chance it will spoil. Once they have an indicator they can rely on, the expiration date can be lengthened toward the maximum,” he said.

When asked why labels commonly found on American meat products like ‘USDA prime’ are not assurances enough, Sar-El laughed.

“USDA stickers? Do you want me to prepare some for you on my computer or should I order a batch from the printer down the street?”

In the sphere of kosher food, HoloPoinT is already making its mark. Holograms are currently being used with the Star-K kosher certification Kashruth Council of Canada president Avrom Pollak told the Canadian Jewish News.

“Our continuous efforts to improve service to the public, drives us to seek methods and technology that enhances our supervision and makes the labeling of products in our care more reliable. The use of HoloPoinT will upgrade kosher supervision, and will be of great help in our constant vigilance in preventing fraudulent mislabeled kosher products from entering the marketplace.”

Rabbi Moshe Elefant, executive rabbinic co-ordinator at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), says the labels will be helpful in the packaging of products produced under supervision to guarantee that only such products bear the OU symbol.

The current hysteria regarding the avian flu has propelled Sar-El into overdrive to get the HoloPoinT installed in processing plants.

“If god forbid, the threats become real, the effect on the economy will be devastating – look at the whole meat industry – from growing and processing to transportation and retail. It’s already happening, I read an article that said in France, there’s been a 20% reduction in chicken sales. And nothing has even happened yet!”

“My program initially was to go into our first factory in Canada at the beginning of 2006. But because of the flu scare, I’ve decided to try and move things ahead and bring it as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
He hopes to make world health organizations and the health offices of different countries aware of the product, as well as meat and chicken industry officials.

“I want to let them know there is a solution – and you can begin today. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”