Using QR Codes to Store Nutritional Information

I recently signed up for an online website that tracks your daily calorie intake.  The particular service that I signed up for (there are a lot of them out there) is FatSecret.  It has a rather substantial database of nutritional information for a lot of foods, ranging from raw produce to food that you would order at a restaurant.  The interface allows you to track both what you eat and how much you exercise.  Most websites like this also have mobile applications that allow you to update your food diary from your iPhone, BlackBerry, or other smart phone.  Today it dawned on me that QR codes can enhance the usability of sites like FatSecret.

A QR (Quick Response) code is a 2D bar code that can store a large amount of data as text.  The beauty of a QR code is that the text that it contains can often be interpreted by software on modern smart phones.  For example, if the QR code contains the URL of a web page, then the QR code software will display it in your phone’s browser.  This is a growing trend in mobile marketing.  QR codes are also printed on some food packaging to store data such as nutritional information.

So, utilizing QR codes to store nutritional information on food packaging has the potential to allow users of mobile apps like FatSecret to simply scan the code and upload the nutritional information directly to their account for tracking.  Back in September of 2006, McDonald’s used QR codes on its food packaging to direct customers to the web, where they could view nutritional information about the food.  My idea would take things a step further, and actually store the nutritional information in the QR code itself.  Since QR codes can handle a rather large amount of character data, you could store the data as XML.  Then, the software for your mobile app would be able to scan the QR code, interpret the XML data, and update your food diary with the appropriate nutritional facts.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see something like this come to fruition in the near future.  Although, requiring food manufacturers to adopt a standard XML schema for representing nutritional data may be a bit of a hurdle.