Front page of Journal Report: “The Future of Food”, Oct, 3rd 2018.
“Six Technologies That Could Shake the Food World” by Annie Gasparro and Jesse Newman.
Codes to chew on
When food makes people sick, grocery stores and restaurants yank it off their shelves and menus, and regulators race to find the source. But companies and officials often struggle to determine exactly from where the tainted food came.
Now many companies are trying to improve traceability in the food-supply chain, as producers, distributors, retailers and restaurants confront costly recalls and more stringent regulation to prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses.
One possible solution: edible bar codes, a DNA-based “fingerprint” designed to make food traceable back to its source within minutes.
The technology, developed at a government-sponsored research facility, was first used to simulate a biological attack, helping officials track how pollutants might move through the New York City subway system.
A deadly listeria outbreak tied to cantaloupe in 2011 later inspired the idea to use the bar codes on food, says Anthony Zografos, who licensed the DNA technology. His company, SafeTraces, now sells the technology to farmers, packers and food processors.
“In this day and age, we should be able to find out quickly where [tainted food] came from,” says Mr. Zografos.
Applied to food, the bar codes are invisible, tasteless and safe to eat. Created by combining segments of seaweed DNA into a unique signature, the bar codes can be applied to a single food item like an apple or a silo full of wheat used in flour.
A drop of DNA can be mixed into the wax coating applied to an apple during processing, for example. Then, a specialized instrument can read the bar code on the apple, revealing information about the fruit’s origin—from the farm where it was grown to the row where it was picked.
Of course, food that is eaten completely can’t be tracked. But the technology is also aimed at managing risks. If a farmer or food processor learns there’s a problem with their product, they can trace it to a specific lot, potentially limiting the scope of a recall.