Local company develops food tracking system

April 29, 2009 7:46:42 PM PDT
Whether it's E. coli, salmonella, or something else, food scares have made a lot of news recently. Unfortunately, in many of those cases investigators loose valuable time trying to find the source of the contamination, but now one Bay Area company may have a solution to help investigators and even you, track food.

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Peanuts and pistachio's contaminated with salmonella, spinach with E. coli, and sprouts with listeria are all potentially dangerous pathogens on your food that could make you sick. These outbreaks highlight a problem tracking what we eat in today's global food market.

"One of the problems has been knowing where that food has come from," says Elliot Grant from YottaMark.

Grant is with YottaMark in Redwood City. They developed HarvestMark, a unique way to track exactly where your food comes from. The technology was originally designed to track electronics and pharmaceuticals. But now, consumers can pick up produce at their local grocery store, look for the HarvestMark label, and identify where that specific piece of produce came from - right down to the field where it was picked.

"There is really no limit to how precise the traceability can be. It's really up to the grower and the shipper to capture the data and it can be all the way down to the crew, the date, the time, the ranch," says Grant.

Right now, you can look that information up online, but eventually the company will set up kiosks and allow web-enabled mobile phones to scan produce while they are still in the store.

"It's actually empowering the consumer to find out more about the products that they want to buy," says Grant.

Not only does HarvestMark allow consumers to track food, but it allows growers to share information about their farms and makes it easier for them to track any problems that may come up.

"They wanted to be able to track their items back to the field instantly, so in the event of another recall, they could tell their consumers whether their product was affected or not," says Grant.

"Consumers and retail chains are really beginning to require as much information as where the product is grown as they can," says food safety director Kiana Amaral with Camarillo Farms in Salinas. "Just based on the data we collect from a sales perspective and the records we have on cooling and shipping, we're able to have a very decent idea of where we've shipped a product and where that product has come from. But we're never able to have an exact idea, and that's the great thing about this HarvestMark solution," says Amaral.

Seventeen million containers of strawberries will be picked from the Salinas fields and soon you'll know exactly where everyone comes from.

"Harvest Mark offered a solution that provided the greatest ease of implementation for us," says Amaral.

It's as simple as placing a sticker on a package. That label corresponds to information supplied to HarvestMark. Each label costs a fraction of a cent.

"It's such a little affect to our process and that's what makes it such a great solution," says Amaral.

A solution that could lead to smaller recalls in the future and greater consumer confidence at the check stand.

"If you can know where a product came from, that gives you great confidence in the transparency of buying that brand," says Grant.

The acceptance HarvestMark is getting is growing quickly. The label is already on half of the nations' strawberries, and a quarter of all watermelons.

This story was written and produced by Ken Miguel.

HarvestMark.com
YottaMark

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