Edible Bar Codes on Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner

September 29, 2018
Edible Bar Codes on Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner

Soon you can aim your smart-phone at a piece of beef and have an app display the meat’s entire history, such as where it was raised, what it was fed, and when and where it was processed.

A new electronic etching procedure developed by Pricewaterhouse Coopers creates an invisible, edible barcode made of non-toxic silicon dioxide.  At first, tags will be embedded in the beef’s primary packaging only, but eventually even individual steaks could be tagged.

The technology will be launched first in Australia and China in the upcoming year.  Such measures will help protect branded names for beef as well as keep food supplies safer for consumers, using the new technology to avoid repeats of multiple past food fraud incidents.

This post is based on the Herald Scotland article, Rog Wood: Hi-tech ways to tell us where our food comes from , by Rog Wood, September 3, 2018; and the Telegraph article, Fake steaks to be exposed by invisible barcode scannable on smart-phones, by Henry Bodkin, August 13, 2018. Image source: Image Source/GIPhotoStock.

Discussion Questions:

1. How will the use of invisible barcodes make the supply chain for meat more transparent?

Guidance: In an era where American consumers want to know specifically where their food is coming from, how it was raised, and how fresh it is, being able to use a smart phone to identify the history of meat purchases could add visibility to the supply chain that was not possible in the past.

Restaurants, grocery stores, and even final consumers could help ensure that meat is of a particular quality or freshness simply by scanning the barcode with their phones.  In the event of a health issue, the questionable meat could quickly and easily be traced to its source, assuming that the barcode was still accessible or had been recorded at some point in the process.

2. How might the use of invisible barcodes affect quality and safety concerns?

Guidance: Using barcodes, applied at the slaughterhouse to the primary packaging, will help ensure that meat is actually coming from a particular supplier.  While we have concerns about this in the U.S. as well, in China there are “knock off” products in virtually every industry, and government does not carefully regulate product authenticity or enforce branding or copyright protections.  Fraudulent foods have sickened or killed many over the years, including many babies when melamine was found infant formula.

When barcodes are also applied to other stages in the meat production process, which could include tagging individual steaks, even end users, such as grocery store customers, could potentially verify that the meat they are buying is “authentic” and hence “safe.”


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