How Barcodes Are Revolutionizing Consumer Nutrition

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If you’ve been to the grocery store, you’re familiar with 1D barcodes: They’re the pattern of vertical bars and spaces that represent a numerical code, which in turn corresponds to a file in the store’s database that often holds the attached item’s price, stock, photo and more. Anytime you bring an item up to the cash register for purchase, the code is scanned and the database is updated, that’s one less Coke, apple or bunch of lettuce available for sale. This helps the business manage their inventory, eliminating guesswork and clerical errors from their supply chain.

For years, barcodes have been very one-sided, only speeding up the checkout process for customers. For the most part, barcodes benefit the businesses that use them, and are mostly forgotten by consumers.

Thanks to upgrades in barcode technology, you’ve likely seen the newer “2D” barcodes (square QR codes) on web pages and on things like concert tickets, prescription medicine bottles and more, as well as advances in smartphones that allow users to scan barcodes using a variety of apps, everyday people are finding more uses for barcodes than they’d ever considered before. The food industry is in the midst of a technological revolution, as shoppers are now more concerned than ever with the provenance and nutritional value of their food.


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As with many things, it’s certainly possible to manually monitor what you’re eating, but there are lots of technological tools that help make watching your weight, tracking what ingredients go into your favorite foods and how you could be saving money every time you shop even easier. They include:

Apps that track nutritional value

Some apps give consumers the ability to learn all they can about a product. For example, Fooducatea standout in this space, gives users who scan an item’s barcode everything from the ingredients to the nutritional values to how it compares to similar products. It’s a grocery shopping adviser that helps people make the healthiest choices possible, highlighting things the manufacturer would rather keep quiet, like the presence of sugars, controversial food coloring and other dangerous or unnecessary additives.  Fooducate has also created a community out of its user base: People can provide reviews, trade recipes and inspire each other with stories of dieting success.

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Apps that count calories

Some apps are more straightforward calorie counters. The Myfitnesspal app functions as an all-in-one calorie counter, diet and exercise journal. The app has an enormous database of over 5 million foods, which you can tap into with the scan of a barcode (or manual input, if you’re dealing with an unmarked item). Set a limit for yourself or use the app (Tap & Track and Nutrition Lookup are other good options) to establish your typical baseline, and then figure out how you can reduce your intake from there.

Ripe apples with barcode

Apps that find deals and other ways to save

We would all like to eat healthy (at least most of the time), but often the healthiest foods, organic, fresh, low on additives and preservatives, are the priciest. That’s why it’s important to find and take advantage of deals on quality meals when you can. There are sites like Groupon and Scoutmob that alert you to great discounts and coupons at nearby restaurants, but you can take matters into your own hands by scanning QR codes found on menus or websites that unlock deals. Restaurants often update daily specials through their QR codes, or offer deals that can only be accessed by visiting their site through a scanned code. Whether you’re grabbing a healthy lunch at a reduced price or splurging on a celebratory dinner that you otherwise couldn’t afford, barcodes are often the technology that makes it possible.

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Tracking the nutritional value, caloric value and dollar value of the foods you eat is crucial for anyone looking to lose weight, alter their diet to make up for vitamin deficiencies and to combat health issues, or to maintain dietary balance without breaking the bank. You can likely do these things without a barcode scanning device like a smartphone. Here are a few reasons why utilizing barcode technology is particularly helpful when shopping and eating out:

  • Organization: Keep a running tab on all the foods you’ve purchased, tried and liked and never worry about losing your records. These apps give you a list of foods you can trust (and those you can’t, or know you shouldn’t), accessible anytime via the cloud, without worrying about searching blindly back through notepads or computer documents.
  • Accountability: With a near-instantaneous connection to accurate information about what’s really in our food, consumers are able to hold large corporations accountable for what they say is in any given product. The era of copywriting and ingredient lists that obfuscate what’s truly in that can of soup is over, Campbell’s Soup recently found that out, and removed 13 ingredients from one of their lines to address health and environmental concerns.
  • Knowledge is power: When trying to avoid specific ingredients or additives, shoppers are often surprised by how many of their favorite foods are chock full of things like added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Consider that barbecue sauce, sports drinks, protein bars, baked beans, bran muffins and spaghetti sauce are all “sugar bombs” but would likely not set off any alarms for those trying to avoid excess calories. Apps that can help you avoid dietary pitfalls like that are great to have on hand.
  • Plan ahead: When dieting, it’s important to have plans in place for meals after work, or first thing in the morning, because not having something healthy on hand is a recipe for backsliding. QR codes can help you stay up to date on which restaurants are open, what their hours are, what specials they offer, the nutrition facts of their dishes and much more. The quick access to a wealth of information that scanning a barcode provides will ensure that you never find yourself without a healthy food option when you need it.

Considering how important food and nutrition are to every person, it’s a surprise that technology has not had a transformative impact on the way we choose and plan our diet sooner. For decades, barcodes were mostly a business-facing technology, and there was only so much a smartphone could do for a consumer that couldn’t already be done as effectively with a personal computer. Now, people can combine the power of barcodes with cloud-based smartphone technology to eat better and cheaper than ever before.

How have barcodes helped you to make healthier nutritional choices?

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Paul Trujillo

Paul Trujillo

Paul Trujillo is a Product Marketing Manager at Informatics specializing in Inventory Warehouse Management and Supply Chain product lines. His nearly 15 years of experience has put him at the forefront of industry technology and developing trends.