Abhinandan Bhargava, Alphonse Dhas Antony, Rahul Kumar, and Varshnee Raj were pursuing a course together at NIIT Rajasthan.
As they hopped from their college canteen to the restaurants around, one concern kept bothering them. Each time they ordered a glass of juice or a fruit salad, a stale batch of fruits was given to them. It was peculiar because the fruits on display looked perfectly fresh and tempting. The taste, however, gave away the real condition of the fruits.
This led the four friends to pursue a research and development project as part of their college assignment. When they graduated in 2018, the team took this project further to launch a startup that detects adulteration in fruits and milk.
Their goal? To curb the wastage that occurs at the levels of farmers and middle-men before the produce reaches consumers.
Speaking to The Better India, Rahul Kumar, CEO of RAAV TechLabs in Delhi, says, “Wastage of food begins at the farming stage. Fruits are delicate, and they are sometimes mishandled during harvest. Harvesting them too soon or too late affects them even further. Take mango farmers, for example. Usually, when one mango ripens, the entire tree is harvested, even though each mango fruit takes its own time to ripen. Using our devices, we wish to realign these practices to avoid wastage from the very first stage.”
According to a 2018 study by the Clean India Journal, about 67 million tonnes of food is wasted in India annually. Of course, this includes all kinds of food items from the very first stage of production to the last—the consumer stage.
Now that puts things into perspective.
Even so, the nearly Rs 92,000 crore worth of edibles should be saved at various stages. RAAV TechLabs, based in Delhi, is doing its bit to reduce these numbers.
Their first targets are fruits and milk—two extremely nutritious food groups that are consumed raw as well as processed. By detecting adulteration at the initial stages, the RAAV team aims to cut down the sale and purchase of impure products.
Fruit analyzer, a portable quality-check device, is one of their innovations that can be used by farmers and buyers to check the quality of produce.
“We use the principle of Ultraviolet, Visible and Near Infrared spectroscopy for detection of brix content (sweetness), acidity (sourness), shelf life (number of days to become overripe) and ripe by (number of days to become ripe). This helps identify the fruits fit for harvesting or for sending to the customer,” Rahul tells us.
The device takes as short as 3-4 seconds per sample and can be used in laboratories as well as harsh field environments.
At the moment, he adds, that they are collaborating with e-commerce websites that cater to food and supplies. Taking a top-to-bottom approach, they will supply the device to buyers and distributors of edibles to check the quality of the produce.
However, this does not include the exterior quality—which can be enhanced and altered using adulteration methods (like the shine on apples which is polish wax)—but the actual quality of the fruit.
From here, they aim to reach farmers who can also use the devices to ensure optimum quality of their produce.
The other device developed by RAAV TechLabs is a hand-held milk analyzer.
Explaining its function, Rahul says, “In this device, we use the principle of Near Infrared and Mid Infrared Fibre Optics for the detection of nutritional parameters like fat, protein, SNF (solids-not-fat), water, and adulterants such as melamine, urea, maltodextrin, and antibiotic residues.”
The team of 23 and 24-year-olds based in Delhi have already started reaching out to big companies that cater to hundreds of customers every day. While the devices are currently in pilot stages, they will be available for commercial use from July 2019.
In the first phase, RAAV is open to selling the fruit and milk analyzers to businesses only.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)