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Assessing the home food environment nutrient supply using mobile barcode (Universal Product Code) scanning technology

Carol Byrd‐Bredbenner (Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)
Carl A. Bredbenner (The Nutrition Company, Long Valley, New Jersey, USA)

Nutrition & Food Science

ISSN: 0034-6659

Article publication date: 25 May 2010




Mobile Universal Product Code (UPC), or barcode, scanning technology provides an efficient, accurate and comprehensive method for conducting home food inventories intended to describe the household's nutrient supply. However, heretofore this technology has had limited use in research because of equipment and software complexities. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to describe a data collection system that overcame these complexities.


A data collection system was developed that utilized off‐the‐shelf barcode scanners and laptop computers running commercial diet analysis software modified to use two large databases linking UPCs with nutrient data in addition to usual data sources (e.g. USDA Standard Reference). This system was designed for use at the data collection site to ensure 100 percent verification that scanned UPCs on food packages matched database foods and make corrections as needed. This system also permitted researchers to capture the presence of foods lacking standard UPCs (e.g. fresh produce) using a keyword search. To ensure that all data were collected uniformly and new foods not in the original database were added to the database in the same fashion, a protocol flowchart consisting of a series of branching “yes/no” questions was developed and applied to each food of interest in the household.


The system was used to conduct household food inventories of 160 families with widely varying socioeconomic strata and races/ethnicities. Households had between 13 and 389 foods on hand, the vast majority of which were identified by standard UPCs. The average inventory took approximately two hours. Study participants expressed interest in the data collection method and were very cooperative.

Practical implications

Home food inventories conducted by researchers are objective and help minimize reporting errors and social desirability bias; however, the cost (e.g. researcher time, equipment, software, and database licensing) of conducting home food inventories, even using mobile UPC scanning technology, is important to consider. To improve access to databases linking UPCs and nutrients, collaborative links between researchers and industry are needed.


This paper is among the first to demonstrate the feasibility of using mobile barcode scanning technology to conduct home food inventories on a large‐scale basis and solve the technical problems associated with this data collection methodology.



Byrd‐Bredbenner, C. and Bredbenner, C.A. (2010), "Assessing the home food environment nutrient supply using mobile barcode (Universal Product Code) scanning technology", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 40 No. 3, pp. 305-313.



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Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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