November 23, 2014

There’s an App for That

Phone AppsA “Focus on Food Safety” webinar last week attended by Food Poisoning Bulletin brought up one of the most powerful consumer tools to track farm-to-fork food safety: the mobile phone app. Apps, or applications, are application software loaded onto mobile phones that instantly provide services on many different topics.

Farm to fork traceability is one of the intentions of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The FDA is charged with mitigating food safety problems and foodborne illness outbreaks, but those tasks are threatened with potential budget cuts. The consumer, unfortunately, bears a lot of the responsibility to stay safe. And mobile apps can help.

You’re no doubt familiar with the most popular apps for games, such as Angry Birds. But apps can also help you find a restaurant or grocery store and, more importantly, find out if anything at that restaurant or store might make you sick. Apps can alert you to food that is spoiling in your fridge, give you food safety tips, and tell you about FDA and USDA recalls.

The food safety apps listed below are for Android, iPhone, and Windows phone. Nokia offers food apps too, but they’re focused on weight loss and recipes.

Food safety apps for consumers include:

  • Government Accountability Office (free) This app gives you the latest reports, Congressional testimonies, and legal decisions from the government watchdog, including information about food and food safety.
  • Perfect Picnic (free) from Fight Bac! for iPhone. Your kids can download this app and create their own park with grilling stations, picnic tables, flowers, and trees. But that’s not all – kids learn about food safety and how to handle food properly at picnics and cookouts.
  • Product Recalls (free) from USA.gov. This app has the latest recall info from the FDA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Department of Agriculture. You can also get this app directly from iTunes.
  • Food Recalls (free) for Windows phone. Recalls posted by the USDA and FDA.
  • Ask Karen (free) from USA.gov offers 24/7 tips on preventing foodborne illness. You can also chat with a food safety expert weekdays, and the app can connect you with the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline number. For Android and iPhone.
  • Chemical Cuisine (99 cents) is from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This app lists the definitions of food additives and chemicals, so you can understand what’s in the food you eat before you buy it. For Android and iPhone.
  • Poison Center Help (free) for the iPhone. This app will connect you to the local poison control center for free access to a medical expert 365/24/7.
  • rGovRecalls (free) for Windows phone. This app lists recent recalls from the FDA, Consumer Product Safety Commission, CDC, and USDA.
  • Clean Eats (99¢) iPhone and iTouch app has reports on restaurants, including a letter grade, violations, and comments by inspectors.
  • HarvestMark (free) traces fresh food back to the farm and has information on recalls. You swipe food that has a HarvestMark Quick Response (QR) code to get the info. For Android and iPhone.
  • GoodGuide (free) offers science-based health ratings for 120,000 products. You set the criteria you care about and this iPhone and Android app will give the product a pass or fail grade.
  • StillTasty ($1.99) for the iPhone gives you expiration dates on foods and beverages. It has an “Alert Me” function that tells you when the food in your house should be thrown out.
  • Locovore (free) is an app that will use your phone’s GPS to tell you where to find nearby farmer’s markets and farms. While local food isn’t necessarily safer, it is fresher. For Android and iPhone. There’s also an iPhone version just for California.
  • What’s on My Food? (free) for iPhone is an app that offers a searchable database of 93 foods to help you understand the pesticides on your foods. It lists toxicity, chemical composition, and regulatory information on thousands of chemicals.
  • True Food Network (free) for iPhone by the Center for Food Safety. This app helps you avoid GMO foods, listing supermarkets that carry non-GMO brands, and categorizes companies that do and don’t produce GMO products.
  • Dirty Dozen (free) is an iPhone app that lists the fruits and vegetables that are the most (and least) contaminated with pesticides and herbicides. Also available on Android.
  • Food Additives 2 ($3.99) for iPhone. This app is a self-contained database that lists food additives and the risks each presents, including side effects possible with each, such as breathing difficulties and migraines. There’s also a free version.
  • Food and Symptom Log ($3.99) for iPhone is an interesting app that keeps a log of the foods you eat and symptoms you experience after eating it. Since one of the big issues in tracking foodborne illness outbreaks is that people can’t remember what they ate before they got sick, this app could be a valuable tool for consumers and epidemiologists.
  • Food Allergy Detective ($2.99) for iPhone. Enter the foods you’ve eaten and the symptoms you’ve experienced and the app analyzes them to look for patterns. While this isn’t a substitute for food allergy tests performed by your doctor, it may help your doctor figure out what foods, if any, you are allergic to.
  • Is My Food Safe? (free) for iPhone. Get answers to your food safety questions with this fun app. Includes: Is it done yet?; Time to toss? and Ask an Expert.
  • Food Safety (free) for Android. This app will warn you when food is expiring. Just scan the bar code on each product.

These apps aren’t a substitute for safe food handling rules and their inclusion here isn’t an endorsement. These apps can’t warn you if the food you’ve just been served in a restaurant is safe, or if the person who just handled your food washed his hands before serving you. But in this fast-moving world of ours, using every tool at your disposal can help keep you and your family as safe as possible.

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