Category Archives: Bar-Code Scanning

DNA Can Be Used To Track Products’ Origins

Ripped from the Headlines:

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USDA Issues Listeria Warning


MAY 25, 1999 / 6:23 PM / CBS

There are several practical reasons for being able to determine, precisely, food products origins: Finding the source of product responsible for a listeria outbreak, for one; Providing verification for products ‘guaranteeing’ to be from a specific area is another.


A commercial product described and explained in a recent in-depth FoodDive report has both those issues in mind. It seems to be living up to its promises, too.

FoodDive noted that a 2011 listeria outbreak involving cantaloupe killed 33 people and sickened 137 others. Had SafeTraces’ tools been available and in place then, the results could have been quite different, because authorities would have been able to quickly pull candidate cantaloupes from stores where problem ones were purchased, and track them back to the fields they were grown in – thus finding, or at least being way closer to finding, the source of the offending bacteria.

Alas, that listeria outbreak was, ultimately the source of the solution to the ‘source identification’ issue.

Anthony Zografos, who as chief operating officer of CPAC, (company Compact Particle Acceleration Corporation), previously helped develop a cancer therapy system, saw in that listeria situation a need to understand how to pinpoint the source of product contamination – particularly the type that causes listeriosis. He wanted to solve that problem.

He told FoodDive that while most traceability applications on the market do a good job of keeping track of food packaging, he wanted to find a way to trace further back in the system, to where the product – cantaloupe, in this case – originated. With that aim (and some sound ideas how to proceed), in mind, he founded SafeTraces, a company dedicated to enabling DNA-level tracking of food products.

In short, this now-a-few-years-old company, under its mechanical engineering PhD leader (Zografos), developed a sort-of bar code – comprised of a seaweed extract – that is applied to foods as they are processed (washed and sorted, in the case of cantaloupes). The embedded code can tell anyone who needs to know anything and everything about its provenance – where it came from – and more.

Last week, the company announced a deal with safety science giant UL to enhance palm oil traceability. This partnership gives businesses dealing with palm oil — a common food ingredient that has a reputation for being farmed using substandard sustainability and human rights practices — a potentially easy solution to guarantee the ingredient’s source.

Last month, SafeTraces announced a partnership with JBT FoodTech, a leading producer of food processing and packaging equipment. This partnership has not yet been fully defined, SafeTraces Vice President of Business Development Ulrike Hodges told Food Dive, but the companies are looking for a way to pursue food processing while integrating SafeTraces technology.

Links in the article will lead you to more details, if you’re interested.

Pennies (Not Quite) From Heaven: Flyers Abandon Nearly $1m At Airport Security


Talk about unintended consequences: The ‘take-off-your-shoes-empty-your-pockets’ routine at American airports – all in the name of security – accidentally netted the government nearly $1 million in left-behind change and bills last year. That, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) said, was the total in coins, loose bills and way more of the latter left in wallets and purses – plus an unknown number of belts, mobile phone, and other personal items – left in the plastic bins at security check points. (As you’d imagine, many of the phones and laptops eventually made it home. The cash, USA Today reported, has been given authority by Congress to spend the money however it sees fit to improve security. In past years, the TSA’s ‘tips’ have gone toward upgrading security signs and Precheck travel-expediting systems.

TSA reported the five airports ‘contributing’ the most the year’s unintended bounty broke down which airports ‘contributed’ what amount: NYC’s JFK Airport, came in at No. 1 with more than $72,300, followed by LAX at nearly $71,800, and then Miami, Chicago’s O’Hare, and New Jersey’s Newark airport. The airport where travelers hold tight to their legal tender? Nevada’s Reno airport, which only yielded $19.85 in 2018. And chances are the Reno passengers left little more – if that much – in the change slots at the slot machines!

I don’t know if anyone’s tracking it, but chances are that as supermarkets increase self-service checkouts, customers requesting ‘cash back’ from credit or debit cards are forgetting to grab it from the machine. (I’ve done it at least twice!)

An important reason that happens is because the cash-return slot tends to be below one’s usual eye-sight range. That, and the fact that customers, at that point in the shopping experience, want it behind them.

I once was chased into a Walmart parking lot by an associate waving my $20 bill in the air.  Some others probably haven’t been so fortunate.

Details — such as where cash-return slots are placed on checkout machines — can be costly to supermarket operators, because even when you aren’t paying attention, you can bet shoppers are!

Diebold App Aims To Eliminate Supermarket Checkout Lines


diebold_appHey retailers, here’s a terrifying experiment to see just how honest your customers are: a mobile-enabled self-checkout concept from Diebold. Placing an awful lot of trust in shoppers, the solution from Diebold.  (Photo/caption: Yahoo.)

Much of the time, today, supermarket customers in stores with self-checkout systems save time. But sometimes they don’t – when, for example, they have too many barcode-free items that must be looked up, or when the system’s scale refuses to recognize that everything in the ‘checkout area’ is supposed to be there.

If one potentially difficult problem can be overcome, a new app from Diebold, a leader in self-service solutions since the early (1980’s) days of the bar code, could totally eliminate the issues that can make today’s self-checkout systems frustrating.

Officially launching this weekend at the National Retail Federation’s ‘BIG’ Show (Jan. 17-19) in New York, this mobile-enabled system will let shoppers scan items as they’re being moved from shelves to the shopping cart. Then, when shopping is finished, the consumer taps his or her app-containing smart phone at the self-service checkout, and a payment is made from the shopper’s mobile wallet. Then, the check-out machine will provide a receipt and can even function as an ATM, providing cash-back, too.

But what if the shopper ‘forgets’ to scan an item? Ay, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said lo those many years ago, there’s the rub – the fly in the ointment, the sticking point. (The latter, in the old game of lawn bowls, is what ‘the rub refers to: A point where the lawn’s surface isn’t smooth to allow a bowled ball to pass smoothly.)

Diebold hasn’t announced a solution to that issue – a far-from-minor point that could, figuratively and literally, send this concept back to the drawing board.

Another issue is, of course, those items that aren’t bar-coded (usually because they need to be weighed and/or counted) and can’t, as a result, be scanned.

The early days of the bar code were plagued by similar problems – from developing the codes themselves (requiring an unprecedented level of cooperation among manufacturers and food retailers) to printing issues, through the overall cost of systems capable of reading universal product codes (UPCs).

As the web site sums it up, “On June 26, 1974, all the tests were done, all the proposals were complete, all the standards were set, and at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio, a single pack of chewing gum became the first retail product sold with the help of a scanner. Decades of schemes and billions of dollars in investments now became a practical reality.”

Not least because of the cost of installing new equipment, it took a while for the new system to get really settled in at the retail supermarket level: “In 1978 less than one percent of grocery stores nationwide had scanners,” says. “By mid-1981, the figure was ten percent; Three years later it was 33 percent.”

Today, not only is every significant food retailer in the U.S. equipped with scanners, every food warehouse is, and distribution facilities for virtually every other kind of product depend on these codes for inventory handling and tracking.

How the ‘first step’ – the at-the-shelf item-count – issue will be resolved. But rest assured, it will be, and Diebold’s app, and undoubtedly others like it, will inadvertently do something magical for retailers: Cut their costs, without costing them much of anything. (The scanning-the-mobile-device issue should be a technically easy one to address by app creators, so their product is compatible with existing checkout scanners.).

Watch this space!