New Smartphone Tool Tracks Produce Provenance

Safety-minded consumers want to know where their produce comes from, and now software engineers at international technology company from NEC have developed a smartphone app that will let them track the pedigree of a melon, mango, or apple, right down to where it was picked, simply by snapping a photo.

The technology works much like fingerprinting, because the visible characteristics of most produce are as uniquely identifiable as a person’s prints. Growers can snap a photo of their fruits and vegetables as they’re harvested and give them a unique identifier. When NEC tested the system on 1,800 Andes melons, it claims, the error rate was just one in one million.

According to a news release from NEC, the technology will eliminate the need for RFID (radio frequency identification) and barcodes and significantly reduce costs for produce businesses when it is released commercially within two to three years.

Doug Powell, PhD, professor and scientific director of the International Food Safety Network (iFSN) at Kansas State University, said he sees a big market advantage for companies that get on board with this kind of technology early.

“I think it would be an ideal way to show people your organization’s food safety commitment before an outbreak happens,” Dr. Powell said. “People buy organic, local, natural, sustainable because they think it’s safer, but it’s not necessarily so.”

Dr. Powell said that apps are a good idea for most companies. “If you’ve invested a lot in food safety, why not brag about it?” he said.

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