Reducing Food Waste with SQRL Codes
Worldwide, one-third of all food is wasted. In the U.S., the percentage is higher, estimated at 30-40%. Food waste is such a large problem in the U.S. that in a New York Times article, �Eat everything in your refrigerator� was number three in a list of seven things a person could do to reduce their contribution to global warming.
SQRL codes can help with this problem in a number of ways.
SQRL codes (Smart Quick Response Labels) allow large amounts of information to be stored in a single QR or Data Matrix 2D barcode. SQRL codes were developed by the RLA Standards Committee, and in 2016 they were recognized by the ANSI MH10.8.2 subcommittee as a global standard.
SQRL codes work by storing whatever product information a company wants to include, along with a four-character code which identifies what the information represents. This way, anyone reading the information will know, for example, which phone number is for pre-sales support, and which is for after-sales support; or that one link is to read allergy information, and another is for recipe suggestions.
More information about SQRL codes, including a short, 3-minute video, is available at http://www.rla.org/sqrl.
Sell-By vs. Use-By Dates
According to an article in the highly-respected journal Science, one of the largest reasons food is thrown away in the US is because it has reached its �use by� date, even though it may be perfectly fine to eat, because legal concerns have caused the company to set the use-by date unnecessarily early.
Additionally, confusion about the difference between �sell by� and �use by� dates causes 160 million pounds of food to be thrown away unnecessarily every year in the US. �Sell by� dates are for the use of the retailer, and are set to allow the consumer to have a reasonable amount of time to consume the product after getting it home. The USDA recommends that a �best if used by� date be used, which is meant to indicate that the food should have its best flavor up until that date. But according to the USDA, �It is not a purchase or safety date.�
As the USDA says, consumers �must evaluate the quality of the product prior to its consumption to determine if the product shows signs of spoilage.� But people, understandably, like to err on the side of safety, and if they aren�t sure, they like the comfort of having a date to follow, and throw it out after that date.
Best By and SQRL
Because of the limited space on product packaging, it is not unusual for companies to only provide one date on a package, and it is typically in small and hard to read print, and generally not placed prominently. Sometimes, a production date is given instead of a �Best By� date, and customers looking through their fridge don�t remember when they bought that package of cottage cheese, and throw it away, just to be safe, even though they only bought it last week.
However, using a SQRL code, it is extremely simple to provide as many dates as the manufacturer wants to. In the sample label below, both the Sell By and Best By dates have been encoded in the SQRL code.
The RLA is developing a consumer app to read SQRL codes. When packages contain SQRL codes like the one below, consumers will be able to scan the SQRL code on the package to easily know what dates have been specified by the producer, and also be able to click on a link to know exactly what the date means.
In this way, SQRL codes can help consumers be much more aware of what the actual �best if used by� date is for each product, instead of mistakenly being guided by a different date.
RLA Standards Committee