My weekly grocery shopping done, I stand at my kitchen counter sorting out my groceries. I pull out my smartphone and start doing what is being marketed to consumers by more and more food retailers. I'm tracing my food. OK. With mobile device in hand I start scanning my fresh produce to see where it comes from.
Here we go! First I scan the tri-color peppers from Mexico. The mobile app isn’t working…nothing is coming up… Out comes the laptop. I bring up the traceability website and enter the code number that's on the package. I wait with baited breath to discover what farm my peppers came from. Here it comes.... It's from ....an advertisement for Kroger pops up. How does this help me? I already know I bought it from Kroger. I was just there a half hour ago. But I'm getting closer to all the source information. The Kroger ad disappears and…now I know it was packed in Taylor Michigan on October 24th.
But wait... how do I use this information?
I also read that if these peppers are recalled that this information will be posted on the Mexican pepper web page. Does that mean that I have to go back to this page every day? This is a lot of work! I've been at this for almost a half hour and I only have one item out of my bag!
(I probably should have put the frozen food in the freezer before I started all this. Now everything’s melted on my counter top. Oh, the perils of being distracted by technology!)
Oh man, some of this food has more than 10 ingredients. And how long is that going to take me?
What do I really gain from knowing what farm and packing facility my peppers come from?
What good is this type of traceability doing for me as a consumer - except for giving me a lot of busy work? Can I deduce anything of value from knowing which farm and packing facility these peppers came from? No. Does it help me in a recall situation? No.
It seems that the purpose of traceability apps marketed to consumers is to make them feel good about their purchases. Consumers would be better served by systems that keep them safe instead of an app aimed at making them feel safe.
And let’s face it, if I wanted local produce I sure wouldn't be buying peppers in Richmond Virginia in November.