Bar codes have been with us for a while now and their application makes tracking products and processing sales simple. For grocers it has meant the demise of the label gun and the need to update price stickers every time costs changed. But the traditional bar-type label has been supplanted by the higher density QR code that can store much more information in smaller spaces and now a new innovation lets suppliers put code directly on edible products.
At the base of the discussion is the availability of highly accurate ink spray printers that can shoot dots of ink at relatively long distances (inches, not feet) so they don’t need to make contact with the products they are marking. Secondly the use of nontoxic inks that can simply be ingested as part of the food they identify. This combination means food products like bulk produce can be easily identified at the register allowing for quick and accurate checkout.
But this kind of marking also means items can be identified with additional information like date of production, date of delivery, location of origin, and supplier plus much more. The capacity to store information directly then coupled with information stored in databases means more flexibility and additional traceability making food delivery safer and complying with federal guidelines.
Recently the QR code has received additional attention based on research from the University of Copenhagen and Abo Akademi University where the actual edible material was developed. It’s a white ‘ink’ that the researchers have destined for use in highly customized medicines. A QR code is created identifying the pill that has been customized for a particular patient. That level of identification is necessary because it just isn’t possible to produce an unlimited number of shapes and colors sufficient to identify every permutation of a customized medicine.
In use the QR code on the pill is scanned to identify whether it is the proper medication and then can be ingested by the patient. Without this level of identification healthcare providers like hospitals and pharmacies that dispense large volumes of similar-looking pills can easily misidentify and deliver the wrong medicine.
The new edible ink coupled with printing and scanning technologies is finding its way into the supply chain at multiple levels.