Secretary Vilsack,

I would like you to study the implementation of a voluntary regulation to control foodborne illness.

We are at the point where the food industry, on its own initiative, has taken all but the final step toward regulation. I think the Department of Agriculture could tie it all together.

First -- Some Pieces

Last September I got call from my local grocery store. The pre-recorded message said their records showed I had purchased a cantaloupe and it had been reported as containing salmonella and causing illness. I should return it for a full refund. We had eaten half of it the previous day. I went on the web and googled “salmonella cantaloupe” and this link popped up on the top on the list. The company named was from California. I immediately felt relieved and did not turn my cantaloupe in. I had purchased a cantaloupe with a sticker Hirakawa Farms Rocky Ford (Colorado) on it. We did not get sick.

I read an article about improving corn production by planting different varieties, using different fertilizers, and placing a GPS sensor on the tractor to record the frequency or density of grain hitting a grain storage backstop. During harvest they could tell where the best production was occurring. They showed the results within feet. The following links aren’t the exact report but the concept is the same – using GPS improves farm production: GPS helps farmers find higher corn yield. And another: Economics of Variable Rate Planting for Corn.

The final piece is the QR code. (Quick Response Code). This is the ubiquitous coded square that is similar in concept to the UPC barcode. You scan it with your smart phone and it takes you to a web site, video or other information. It has the ability to encode URL and GPS location information. The QR Code is a license free ISO standard.

Next – An Example

With the above in mind, let’s follow a cantaloupe with a future USDA approved process.

Other Products

Any product that goes to the consumer unmodified (e.g. cantaloupe) is the easiest to manage. More complex products, like hamburger, need an intermediate QR code. Here the QR code will be duplicated on a production line when a product is split or combined. The carcass will need a plastic QR code pinned to it and scanned at the start of the process with small square copies printed. As the steaks or roasts get cut and packaged the QR code copy will need to be attached or wrapped into the package. For example, the QR code would be printed on a small square and attached to the bottom of the Styrofoam tray. When wrapped with clear plastic the QR code would be seen on the bottom. The outside package QR code would be the producers. The trimmings will be combined with other trimmings. Here the QR code source will be the producer's. The original QR code could be included with others in a database and associated with a time-stamp and conveyer belt identification.

Batch combined processes such as soups, milk products, TV dinners typically already have the location, a batch number and time stamp already on the package. The key here is associate the original source QR code with the batch process. That is, the green beans came from source QR1, the potatoes from source QR2, the Chicken from source QR3. For most producers, that would be no more than one additional field in an existing database.

Many QR code sites are awaiting you to discuss dynamic QR codes and QR code management. I generated those below from http://qrcode.kaywa.com/.

In Summary

This would most importantly save lives. There were 13 deaths and 72 illnesses reported with a previous outbreak from Jenson Farms cantaloupe. It would pay for itself by not having to throw out millions of pounds of perfectly good food “just to be safe”. It would stop the fraud of mislabling fish.

Can the existing UPC barcode readers be upgraded to scan the QR code? Probably not. However, future scanners could and until then the existing UPC barcode could be printed above the QR code. The best solution would be code both the location and product in the QR code. Certainly existing UPC barcodes and QR codes can already be read with smart phones.

It is scalable. Small farms could have pre-printed QR codes and not require GPS Units. Large farms have the option of printing the QR code in the field in real time with location information. The global producer can install it on their conveyer belts and local butcher can use his cell phone and label printer or the slaughter house can deliver copies of the QR code square with the side of beef.

Here is a QR code pointing to the USDA:(Food Safety and Inspection Service)
Missing UsdaQRcode
And a link if you don't have a Smart Phone.

And another pointing to MODEL Software:(This letter to you)
Missing modelswQRcode
And a link to the page you are reading.

If I can help or can clarify this in any way please contact me at gerardg@modelsw.com

Thank you,

Gerard Gilliland