In the Future, Scanners Will Reveal Everything About Food

© Denise Taylor / Getty Images / Moment RF

By James Oliver Cury Posted April 26, 2016

Target is developing a device that can detect the origin, potential lifespan, and nutritional value of certain foods.

Even if you're the kind of fussy shopper who eats only organic apples and bananas, there's no way you can tell where the fruit grew, when they were picked, or how long they will last. Now an entrepreneur in residence at Target is developing a scanner gun prototype that—if it works—will reveal all this and more, reports CBS News.

The scanner, technically a mass spectrometer, works like a bar-code reader, shooting light into produce and extracting information from it. Wavy lines appearing on a monitor indicate levels of antioxidants and moisture, and these can help tell the story of how ripe and nutritious your apple may be.

Target has enlisted the help of designers at IDEO and researchers at MIT to create the device. The goal: Pave the way for greater transparency in the food system. "We know less about the food we eat today than in any other time in history," says Target entrepreneur Greg Shewmaker.

In fact, nearly 10 percent of food purchases are wrongly identified, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). This includes horse meat labeled as beef, fine wines diluted with water, and farmed salmon marked as "wild."

While the food industry may view this gadget as a form of indictment—a lack of faith in the product being sold—it's actually a marketing opportunity: Better stores will promote how fresh, nutritious or even rare their produce is. No one really knows how much information can be gleaned from a scanner like this. Target hopes that someday we will be able to tell which side of the apple got more sunlight, for example. Scanners will eventually shed light on all kinds of foods—not just produce—and must be able to work around the world, not just at your local Target. Yep, you guessed it; someday there may be an app for that.

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