Smartphone applications are making life easier left and right. Need directions? Piece of cake. Want to know the top rated Indian restaurants within a 1 mile radius? Done. Care to track your jog via GPS? They can do that too.
Now smartphones are offering technology that could present a new frontier for food safety. Both iPhones and Google Phones have barcode scanning applications, which allow consumers to look up product information right in the store. Users can instantly pull up nutrition facts, compare prices, and make grocery lists.
Now, imagine if you could scan your ground beef to make sure it was not tainted with E. coli.
Sound like science fiction? It’s not. We are actually behind the curve on this. Japan has utilized phone-scanning technology as a food safety tool for years–QR tag (Japanese barcode) scanners are a standard cell phone function in Japan. After a Mad Cow outbreak in 2001, Japan’s Food Safety Commission started tagging more foods with QR tags so that consumers could have better information when making food choices.
According to Wireless Watch Japan (2005), Japanese consumers can find out all sorts of information from their cell phone scanners. “The code links to a mobile website detailing origin, soil composition, organic fertilizer content percentage (as opposed to chemical), use of pesticides and herbicides and even the name of the farm it was grown on.”
If Japan can do all this though barcode applications, it is certainly possible for the U.S. to integrate recall information and other food warnings from the FDA and USDA into such a system.
Katie Filion of Barfblog, a blog that offers “musings about food safety and all things that make you barf,” also sees the potential food safety use of scanning applications. “During the peanut butter recall, instead of scanning the FDA list of recalled peanut products, what if consumers could have snapped a picture using a cell phone and receive up to date information on whether a certain granola bar was recalled?”
“Using the latest technology to communicate food safety and recall information can benefit everyone. It allows consumers to instantly receive information they desire, and in the recall example, could allow grocery stores to be certain they have pulled recalled products from the store shelves,” added Filion in a blog post last spring.
As more Americans upgrade to smartphones and we continue to deal with multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, smartphone technology could very well be a critical tool for disseminating food safety information to consumers.