Smartphone to brag about food safety?

My colleagues have wonderful toys.

I can’t complain, I prefer the 17-inch MacBook Pro because I write and edit and read a lot, but Chapman and Amy and Gonzo, they’re all about their iPads and iPhones and gizmos. They figure out how it works and then can explain it in Doug-speak if I need something.

So I’m not sure how Food Quality magazine ended up asking me about the new NEC smartphone app for tracking produce pedigrees, but I suggested, why not make an app to promote food safety.

“If you’ve invested a lot in food safety, why not brag about it?”

According to the Food Quality article, 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.

“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.”

When danger lurks in the grocery aisles, call the Recaller

Deciphering recall information is tough for the regular consumer.

Automated phone calls to shoppers have been appreciated. Pictures of products have also helped to clear things up.

But it seems that retailers need some assistance accessing and utilizing recall information to better aide consumers.

Recalled products were found on grocery and convenience store shelves after:
Salmonella bacteria were discovered in Veggie Booty snacks,
botulinum toxin was found in Castleberry’s chili,
Topps meat was recalled due to E. coli contamination,
Listeria monocytogenes was detected in Maple Leaf deli meats, and
dairy products were found to contain melamine.

Growing up, my brother Skyler had an awesome Batman alarm clock. When it was time to get up, the Bat-Signal would shine on the ceiling and a voice would say, “Gotham City is in trouble; call for Batman!” It was a great call to action.

I think the citizens need another hero: The Recaller.

Along with a handful of producers, some grocery retailers have specialized personnel on staff to manage food safety issues.

Barry Parsons
fills that role for the three Stauffers supermarkets in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

When he gets news of a recall, Parsons says,

"Twenty minutes to a half an hour and it’s off the shelf."

POW. BAM. WHAP. The threat is negated.

My bother Jesse (currently a third grader) found a hero in Spiderman.

All the aforementioned recalls have shown that the production and distribution of food today has the power to reach and—positively or adversely—affect many, many people. And you know what Uncle Ben says about great power….

"There’s a lot of responsibility being in the food business," Parsons said. "I really care about this.

"Because it could be a child. I’ve had children myself. Imagine if your child got sick. How would you feel as a parent? The elderly — they’re susceptible. My parents are in their 80s. That really hits me."

That’s what I see as a culture of food safety.

The superhero I favored was a good guy from Kansas: Superman.

(At right: Dean Cain’s costume from ‘Lois and Clark’ was on display alongside old mining equipment and [representative] boxes of stored film reels at the  Kansas Underground Salt Museum when Bret took me last year.)

The Pennsylvania Recaller says of his position,

"You’ve really got to be dedicated to it, and you’ve really got to have a sense of caring.

"You’ve got to say, ‘No matter what’s going to happen, I’m going to make sure my customers are safe, my employers are safe.’

"This is not something I do as a job. It’s just what I do. It’s who I am."

Batman hit by Hong Kong pollution

Producers shooting the new Batman movie have, reports The West Australian, been forced to cut one scene involving the caped crusader – played by Christian Bale – jumping out of a plane into Hong Kong’s famed Victoria Harbour.

The South China Morning Post was cited as saying producers felt the poor water quality was just too dangerous for the action hero when shooting for part of the film takes place there in the coming week.

A source was quoted as saying, “There was supposed to be a scene where Batman jumps out of the back of a Hercules C-130 and into Victoria Harbour. The plan was for Batman to be seen jumping into the water and then climbing up some bamboo, or something similar, onto a pier. But when they checked a water sample, they found all sorts of things, salmonella and tuberculosis, so it was cancelled. Now the action will cut to inside a building."

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department was cited as admitting that harbor water was not suitable for swimming due to untreated sewage.