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Food Traceability Tool Developed in New Zealand Uses QR Codes

A traceability system developed in New Zealand uses Quick Response (QR) codes so consumers with smartphones can have an easily accessible history of the source and status of an item, whether it happens to be a dairy product, a car, or any other merchandise.

IDlocate is a relatively new product developed by a company based in Auckland, NZ. Companies implementing the system pay a one-time setup charge and then a monthly maintenance fee, while consumers interested in their brands can use it for free.

Woman scanning food with phone at storeSimon Bell, who handles technical and operational issues for the company, explained that the generated information can alert consumers to a food fraud problem, a related recall, or other issues involving a particular product.

“It’s all database-driven so when they scan the QR code, it generates a particular URL so whatever information we have around that particular product is unique. It could be anything. When a consumer scans it, it instantly tells them whether there’s a recall on that product,” Bell told Food Safety News.

“If you use the recent cucumber issue, if the packs had the unique identifiers on them, then consumers, whether in-store or at home (with it in the fridge), could have scanned the QR code and then known instantly whether it was a biff-it-or-eat-it decision,” he added. (In NZ, “biff” means to discard something.)

Bell acknowledged that there are other tracking systems available which take food safety information (product temperature, location, status, etc.) and store it either on office-based or cloud-based servers. However, he said that the IDlocate model is different because of how it works and because it’s so easily accessible on the consumer end.

“We’ve got a really good understanding of unique coding and imaging and a really good understanding of the application process. It’s incredibly secure and incredibly mobile; we can roll and do it in 15 minutes. We haven’t found anybody else who can do what we can do,” he said.

There is almost no limit to the information which can be tracked on a food item. Besides the origin and recall history, it could be data from an outbreak investigation, video footage, or other content specific to that individual product, Bell noted.

Lots of research is being done these days involving genetically engineered foods and various product investigations, but nothing has systematically been done linking that research with the consumer, he said.

A video the company posted to YouTube on Nov. 3, 2015, explains more about the rationale behind IDlocate and how it works.

Most smartphones have a QR code reader app already installed, or one can be downloaded at no cost, Bell said, adding that the IDlocate system can also be used via a tablet or desktop computer. It can also adapt to different languages and locations.

His company has been out pitching the IDlocate system and working up interest in applying it to different products.

“We’re talking about putting it on vehicles here so you can scan the history of that car. We’re talking to lots of dairy producers here in New Zealand, and an egg producer and a chicken producer,” Bell said. Other projects in the initial stages include a honey manufacturer and an infant formula exporter.

An ultimate goal is for IDlocate to help develop trust and consumer confidence in people weary of continual recalls and uncertain about the quality of their food in today’s international marketplace.

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