Grocery shopping can be baffling these days. Organic or local? Seasonal or fair trade? Is corn syrup really that bad? And where did that fish come from? Fortunately, a handful of recently created free apps for Android and iPhone (and some mobile websites for others) can answer just about any food question. Download them now and chow down in peace.
Just scan the bar code of any product with your phone's camera, and Fooducate will give it a grade (from A to F) and break down the details. Grades are based on both the honesty of the labeling on the product and its overall health and nutritious value. For a box of reduced fat Ritz crackers, for example, it warns consumers, “Contains transfats! Even though the label says 0!” Even better: The app suggests healthier alternatives for foods that don’t make the grade. If you don't have an Android or iPhone, you can visit the mobile website and enter the product name.
This app also includes a barcode reader, so consumers can scan codes and get ratings of the product’s health attributes. But GoodGuide also rates products according to their environmental impact. And the 115,000 items in its database include not only food, but also paper goods and household cleaning products.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch has long been one of the handiest guides to sustainable seafood. This app is an updated, digital version of the guide, kept current with real-time data. It includes Project FishMap, which allows users to find and share info on markets and restaurants offering sustainable seafood.
Compiled by the Center for Food Safety, the True Food app contains one bit of info that consumers care about, but that food labels lack: what, if any, genetically modified ingredients are present. The app also suggests brands, plus information regarding the most common genetically modified ingredients. Though lacking the handy bar code feature of some of the other apps, it makes up in substance what it lacks in technology.
Although not so high-tech, the Dirty Dozen app contains the most-requested bit of info when it comes to toxics and food: what types of produce are most important to buy organic (the otherwise Dirty Dozen), and what items don’t matter so much (the Clean 15), all updated annually by the Environmental Working Group. The mobile website also enables non-smartphone users to check produce on the go.
The company works with hundreds of companies and thousands of farms all over the world to trace various products back to the farms that supplied the ingredients. Once a company or farm has signed on with HarvestMark, its products are labeled with a special barcode. Using the HarvestMark app, consumers can scan the code to reveal not only where the product came from, but also if it is part of a recall.