It goes without saying, providing safe food for consumers is always paramount for the food industry. In Asia, given the region's heterogeneous nature with no single regulatory body, doing this consistently at scale has been and will continue to be an unmet need for the region. Each year, 275 million people in Asia (and the Pacific) fall sick from food, with 225,000 perishing. This equates to roughly half of the global tallies for foodborne illness and death, respectively. Biological hazards, most notably E. coli, norovirus, Salmonella spp., and Campylobacter spp., are frequently to blame, causing 80% of the disease burden in Asia.
Improving these statistics will require participation from organizations in both the public and private sectors. Providing infrastructure and personnel training to improve hygiene and sanitation in production will play a large role, with an opportunity for technology to build on that foundation. A number of Asia-based startups are developing technologies to either detect food safety hazards or minimize their impacts:
Note: Regional scope includes West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.
Food safety inspection tools:
Correlating with the prevalence of disease brought on by biological hazards, seven of the 10 local startups in this space are focusing on rapid pathogen detection. The Wave Talk from South Korea makes bold (but likely unrealistic) claims that it can detect bacteria within one second. Unfortunately, current claims by other companies, such as Bactusense and Biopsin, are still dubious. Sensing, especially in a point-of-use format, will be a critical component in the future of food safety. However, based on the realities of the companies described here, the underlying technologies still need to catch up.
For preservation tech companies in Asia, there is no pronounced common thread as in the case of food safety inspection tools. Four of the nine are applicable to the shelf life extension of fruits and vegetables (PureSpace, SafeLight, Sufresca, and ECC Tech), although they use different approaches. Another four are a loose collection related to food processing equipment in some way (Kiinns, Bio-Fence, AseptoRay, and S4S Technologies). With none at a meaningful scale at this time, foreign entrants rapidly gaining momentum (e.g., Apeel Sciences) are most likely to gain strong footholds in Asia.
The startup landscape for food safety in Asia is sparse, but this signals opportunity for large corporations to innovate, especially when there is a significant need for scalable solutions. Innovation should be undertaken in the context of current challenges in Asia's food system, as well as future concerns. For instance, as novel high-yield food production methods mature to address regional food security concerns, safety will be questioned and must be validated. With Singapore granting the world's first regulatory approval of cell-based meat at the beginning of December, such opportunities may occur sooner than anticipated.