According to recent USDA Economic Research Service report, the 15 most prominent foodborne pathogens kill an estimated 3,000 Americans a year, hospitalize 128,000, and cost the U.S. economy more than $15 billion. Meanwhile, 133 billion pounds of food goes uneaten every year, a loss estimated at $161 billion.
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The figures are striking, but they underscore a simple fact: Most people have virtually no idea of when their food is good, when it’s going, and when it’s gone.
Hoping to improve the above numbers, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has partnered with mobility solution provider DMI to upgrade the FoodKeeper app, a digital deployment of the FoodKeeper guide the USDA first released as a brochure in 1994. To date, the app has been downloaded over 100,000 times. On April 22, in honor of Earth Day, DMI announced that it would be rolling out a series of enhancements to the FoodKeeper, including push notifications for food recalls and educational alerts, multiple language functionality, cooking information for food safety issues, and easy access to educational videos.
Chris Bernstein, director of food safety education for the USDA’s Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education, explains, “The application will help you understand how different storing methods affect a product’s shelf life—it helps you maximize the storage life of 400+ food and beverage items, including various types of baby food, dairy products and eggs, meat, poultry, produce, seafood, and more. In addition, the application can remind you to use items before they are likely to spoil.”
Bernstein underlines that the ultimate goal of the FSIS’s educational projects is to promote safe food-handling practices and consequently reduce national foodborne illness rates.
“We use a variety of methods to achieve that goal, including public service advertising, seasonal outreach, social media outreach, the distribution of educational brochures and booklets, and mobile applications,” Bernstein explains. “The FoodKeeper application is just one of the many vehicles FSIS uses to promote safe food handling practices. We want to reach people where they are, and an app allows us to reach consumers that we may not be able to reach through our other efforts.”
The end-product, Berenstein says, is a move toward users choosing better storage methods, extending the shelf life of their food items, and ultimately reducing the frequency of users preparing and eating spoiled food.