See Food: Optical Scanners Reveal Food Content

New optical scanners may allow us to determine what’s in, and on, our food.

By Nancy Dorman-Hickson

Handheld scanners, some the size of a grain of rice, will soon let us know way more about our food than meets the eye. From vitamins in things like apples to pesticide residue on them, even how long ago they were harvested, these new optical devices could very well transform the act of buying and selling food.

Food scanner technology is brand new, and building the data to help it work will take years.

Food scanner technology is brand new, and building the data to help it work will take years.

They could even tell us that the grouper on our plate is actually tilapia.

Retailer Target, through a collaboration with Ocean Optics, is on the leading edge of this new technology. Spokesperson Jenna Reck says Target is currently using the tool “to build the food fingerprint database,” which is needed for the scanner to do its job, and is expected to take years to complete.

The scanners work by relaying molecular information using light beams that bounce between the object and a sensor. The more established the scanning database, the more complete the read.

“This scanning technology puts the power into consumers’ hands,” says Dana Smith, founder of FarmAppetit, a company that focuses on mobile apps for small farms. She adds, “It also brings the relationship between the consumer and farmer closer, and may even drive more loyalty and advocacy to favored farms.”