If you are one of the estimated 15 million Americans (3 million children) or 600,000 Canadians living with food allergies you know grocery shopping always includes reading labels, understanding that product derivatives, whether they are clearly stated or not, can be just as dangerous or detrimental as their parent products and putting back intriguing new food items when they contain ingredients you’re simply not sure of. I know- I’m one of them. So how exciting to discover someone has had the forethought to use technology to address this problem and make grocery shopping not only easier, but also safer especially for “newbies” not yet familiar with the many hazards that may await them.

MyFoodfacts is an iPhone App available through the iPhone store. Once loaded the user can then program in potential food allergens and begin scanning product bar codes. Within seconds, the user knows if the product may contain one or more of the pre-programmed allergens or its derivatives. The user is then able to call up an ingredients list to determine whether this is a product they want to purchase. There are approximately 130,000 US product barcodes currently entered in the App’s data base and this number is increasing daily. The Canadian version data base, not yet released, will include about 200,000 barcodes. The company’s goal is to provide information on as many products as possible found in supermarkets. In order to speed up the process and ensure valuable consumer feed-back is part of the App’s on-going product development, anyone can send a list of the products they commonly shop for to MyFoodFacts and the company will contact the manufacturer on your behalf to obtain the necessary information to include in the data base for the next time you scan. Ingredient information is updated whenever there is a change and MyFoodFacts has the ability to detect allergens in both the product’s most current ingredient list, and the product’s earlier version’s ingredient list. Who would think that new and improved could be a safety issue?

It keeps getting better. Not only does this App help those of us with food sensitivities and allergies but its development team has incorporated a news feed component which provides updates on food product recalls in the United States and Canada as well as undeclared allergen alerts. According to MyFoodFacts creator Mike Kwiecien, “It’s surprising how many food product recalls there are. Occasionally, you read a small announcement buried somewhere in the newspaper but, unless the situation is dire, you tend not to hear about it. In reality there are food product recalls happening all the time. We just don’t know about them. Being able to build this news feed into the App was our way of making this information more easily and readily available to consumers. I think it’s important for everyone from moms to students to the elderly to pet owners to know what is happening with the food products we’re buying.”

Is this simpler than holding a box of cereal or ice cream while trying to keep your kids in the cart? Does is make it easier to identify product derivatives that could be an issue? Is it helpful to those only now discovering they have food allergies and sensitivities? Is it a great way to use technology to better our quality of life? Absolutely “yes” on all counts. Plus for those of us over 40, the font size on most smart phones is bigger than it is on those pesky cereal boxes.

Interested in purchasing the US iPhone APP or learning more about when the Canadian version will launch go to http://www.myfoodfacts.com