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What's in your food? Tech will tell!

Mike Elgan | Aug. 8, 2016
Technology is empowering consumers with knowledge about what's really in the food we eat.

Another scanner called Tellspec costs $499 and uses a laser to evaluate food ingredients. If you zap a food with Tellspec and wait about 30 seconds, you'll get an estimate of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fats, fiber and glycemic load. The associated app also tries to alert you to any known allergens it detected.

Yet another product called the SCiO, which the company calls the "world's first pocket molecular sensor," and which should ship in December, can theoretically perform a range of feats, from detecting nutrients in foods (and logging them for you in an app) to checking the amount of water in the leaves of your houseplants. The SCiO scanner will cost $249. In its current incarnation, the SCiO product isn't quite ready for the consumer public, but the company promises additional apps that will make it more useful for shoppers.

The trouble with scanners

This scanning technology is promising. Even the first generation of scanners now hitting the market can already provide some insights.

But the biggest problem with the scanners is that you can't scan most foods in their entirety. For example, you can detect the ingredients in, say, ice cream because all the ingredients are mixed together evenly. But you can't scan a sandwich or a chocolate chip cookie or a salad.

You also can't scan products that are inside packages; you can't scan the ice cream in the store without opening the lid, which is surely a shopping faux pas.

Clearly, the ultimate food consumer product would be a hybrid of everything I've mentioned in this column -- a food scanner and a bar code and QR code scanner backed by a massive, detailed database that combines data from food producers, crowdsourced data, and data from independent organizations that do testing on food products.

Until then, people will have to get by on their own, downloading or buying the apps or scanners they can and piecing together the truth about what's really in the food we eat.

Still, today's new technology is far better than yesterday's reliance on incomplete, ambiguous food labels.


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