Where did you put those canned tomatoes again? And when did you open them? If you're in the habit of conducting semi-monthly excavations of the inner recesses of your fridge, only to find mummified scraps of no-longer-recognizable food, then we've found the app for you. It's called "Consume Within," and it helps absent-minded foodies keep track of their shelves.
The app was developed by Unibyte, a spin-out company from the Caparo Innovation Centre associated with Britain's University of Wolverhamptom. A "lite" version of the app (which monitors no more than four items—for dieters, apparently) can be found for free on the iTunes store, but for the full-featured app, it'll cost you $2.99.
Users can snap photos of their items, noting whether they store them in the freezer, refrigerator, or cabinet, and can even tag the food with a barcode sticker to aid organization. The app will then let you know when a given item is about to expire. And there's no reason to stop at food—users can label pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, or anything they might deem to have a limited shelf life.
"Reducing food waste is a major issue, it costs the average family with children 830 pounds [almost $1,300] per year and has serious environmental implications too," said Andrew Pollard, a professor at the Caparo Innovation Centre, in a press release, adding that "in the UK 8.3 million tonnes of food is thrown away by households each year."
I got in touch with Pollard, who adds that the app has an interesting development history. He writes in an email:
We're heavily into the principles of 'Open Innovation' and offer partnerships to inventors at www.help4inventors.co.uk. These are genuine risk-sharing partnerships between the Dept of Engineering at the University and independent inventors who come up with good ideas. We help them develop and commercialize, in return for an agreed share in the commercial income. Our 'Consume Within' app is a perfect example of this approach to innovation. A couple of inventors came to us with the idea, we liked it, and we've worked with them to develop and launch the product. Actually, we started out with a dedicated device, with its own display, electronics and software. But then, of course, smartphones came along with far higher capability and a better interface than anything we could do. So, we've converted all the functionality into an app for iPhones and iPod Touch.
The app seems like a great idea, but one that's not fully formed. Our fridges can become so cluttered that we do need alerts to remind us what to chuck, and when. But if we're absent-minded enough to forget what we put in the fridge, aren't we likely to be absent-minded enough to not want to bother cataloging each and every item we store? But the app could perhaps find a niche market, for instance, in small restaurants that need a DIY-strategy for managing shipments of food.
Pollard says that the app is, in its current version, "aimed squarely at consumers and individual households, but we've got more bespoke versions coming along." And he points out that users of course won't tag everything in their fridge, but rather, he says, "just the items that matter to you. For me, it’s jars of relish, which generally say something like ‘consume within 6 weeks of opening.' I never have any idea how long they’ve been open for. Even worse when I find two opened jars in the refrigerator—which was opened first?"
[Image: Flickr user Jo Naylor]