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ARTICLE

Mobile App Can Help Prevent Food-borne Infections

MAY 06, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
Food-borne infections are not only caused by contaminated foods, but by the consumption of spoiled foods as well.  What if there was a mobile app that can detect that food has gone bad before you could discover it the hard way?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people are infected with food-borne illnesses each year. Many food-borne infections cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and mild to severe stomach cramps. Of those individuals who are infected, 128,000 will be hospitalized and 3,000 may die.

The CDC identifies food-borne infections as preventable public health problems. According to the CDC, “Each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Many different disease-causing microbes, or pathogens, can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections.” More than 250 diseases have been linked to food-borne bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Food can become contaminated either at the source or during preparation with improper handling by infected individuals. All types of meats can be contaminated during slaughter when the meat comes into contact with intestinal contents. Source contamination for fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, can occur when contaminated water is used on crops.
In an effort to aid in the prevention of food-borne infections, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a mobile app, FoodKeeper, which provides users with “valuable storage advice” to help maximize shelf-life, prolong freshness, and improve the quality of foods and beverages.

FoodKeeper was developed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, in conjunction with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute. The app offers storage advice and also alerts users of possible food spoilage through its calendar option. (Users can enter the purchase date of edible items and the app will send notifications reminding them to use the item before it goes bad.) The app also offers cooking guidance for all protein products to ensure the elimination of food-borne bacteria.

The FoodKeeper app provides advice and recommendations on more than 400 items in the following categories:
  • Baby Food
  • Baked Goods
  • Beverages
  • Condiments & Sauces
  • Dairy Products & Eggs
  • Deli & Prepared Foods
  • Frozen Foods
  • Grains, Beans & Pasta
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Produce
  • Shelf Stable Foods
  • Vegetarian Proteins
The developers of FoodKeeper created the app with the ultimate goal of reducing food waste. The US Food Waste Challenge, launched in 2013, aims to reduce the amount of food waste throughout the country by encouraging the improvement of food labeling and development by farmers, manufacturers, and preparers (restaurants, catering services, delis etc.), using proper storage and cooking methods.

The challenge also encourages restaurants, supermarkets and other food retailers to donate unsold products to hunger relief organizations, food banks, pantries, and other charity establishments, rather than discarding them. Recycling products to feed animals, create compost, bioenergy, or for use as fertilizer, is also encouraged.

More information can be found at the FoodSafety.gov website.
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