Food safety

Have you ever been a victim of food poisoning? Have those 99-cent tacos ever cost you much more in stomach medicines and time off from work? Well, FeedingtheAccelerator’s Heather Jonasson plans to find out the best way to eat her tacos and burgers without ever having to spend all night in the bathroom again.

The Center for Disease Control states that over 48 million people in America get sick from food poisoning each year, while 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 even die from food-borne diseases. I know that I’ve been a victim of food poisoning several times. At the moment, the most I can do is suffer and report it to the local health authority, who I have to hope investigates the problem so that someone with a weaker system than mine doesn’t succumb to an even worse sickness.

If you’ve experienced this, and I think you most likely have, then you should be just as glad as I was to hear that we are finally advancing in technology to prevent food spoilage and diseases. And some of this technology is available already to your smartphone!

Let’s start with the temperature at which food is stored. Incorrect temperature of food can lead to food spoilage, which then can lead to sickness or just food waste. Some of the technologies being developed toward food safety are temperature-monitoring devices for refrigerators. These are mainly designed for restaurants that might sometimes have power outages or damage to their cooling systems. This type of technology contains sensors that are connected to the Internet to alert the user of any change in temperature that could result in food spoilage.

Food safety technology is not only limited to stores, restaurants and manufacturers. As the customer, we want to be able to determine for ourselves whether we feel our food is safe to eat. It’s human nature to want to be in control of your own safety. Generally, I trust myself driving a car more than other people and I trust that I’ve washed my hands before preparing my meals. I admit, I’m forced to give over control when I travel on an airplane or in surgery, but I have to trust that pilots and surgeons have a better education than me in those fields (and better technology, I hope).

One example of a system for food customers is the seafood tracing system “Thisfish.” With this, a customer can scan or enter a code on the food item with their phone. The system tells you the boat and crew that caught the fish, the method of fishing, and the location and information about the processing company. Wow! I like to know where my food is coming from, but this is beyond my expectations. If I’m extremely pleased with the fish, will I then start scanning the store for Captain Jules’ boat and crew’s latest catch? I guess I could if I wanted to.

This technology will soon expand not just to fish, but to produce in local supermarkets, to provide the customer with tracking information, letting us know if the food is actually organic or how long it took to arrive at the store. Personally, I think this is an excellent idea. Tekfors is another company that is developing a network-connected instrument to be used by consumers to scan for contaminants in food. Sensors detect the properties in the food and transmit this information via an app to a server. I think in the future, this could be a daily necessity when grocery shopping and we will be shocked that we lived without this information previously.

Scientists are currently working on databases of microbial foodborne strains and sequencing them for traceability. If one food is contaminated, the information from which it came from can be used for an immediate inspection of other foods coming out of the same facility.

But what about when you go to restaurants? The food has already been cooked and there is obviously no bar code to trace.

That’s where companies like HDScores come in. Their company has an iPhone app showing health inspection scores for restaurants and food establishments. It’s like a restaurant review site, but for health inspections. In cities like New York, restaurants are usually required by law to post their health score in the front window, but the laws aren’t the same all over the country and an app like this could be a huge help to avoiding potentially contaminated places.

I look forward to not having to worry at a restaurant that my chicken wings are going to arrive with a few feathers attached (true story, and that chain is now out of business). It will be so nice to know that the meat I buy was raised by a farm I trust and not just surplus rejections from Banjo’s Discount Meat Warehouse.

I believe this technology will expand to even more safety features that can be used in more parts of the world. By eradicating food-borne diseases, we can eliminate future health-care costs and increase the well-being and food intake all over the world.

Heather is an authentic Texas girl, who just wants to eat her tacos in peace. She is the twitter expert at FeedingThe Accelerator. You can follow her at @FeedAccelerator and @heatheraudrey.