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Open Food Facts App by Lisa O’Gorman, CEC

I came upon this vey helpful Food Facts App when watching French news one evening. It’s an app for your phone that scans the bar code of a product you might be thinking of buying. Open Food Facts is a collaborative project with contributors from all around the world. It is a nonprofit association of thousands of volunteers. The project was started in 2012, by Stephane Gigandet, creator of the food blog portal Recettes de Cuisine (French) and Very Good Recipes as well as other French Food-related projects e.g. Manger Bloguer and Informations 2012Nutritionnel.

There is also an Open Beauty Facts site that deciphers cosmetics from around the world.

Continuous barcode scanning provides instant scores for comparison which is very convenient. It also has on offline mode available for iPhones, so it is available without having to be connected to a stores Internet.

The app then gives you several ratings. Nutritional quality of A thru E, a NOVA score rating ultra-processed foods, a Carbon Impact score, vegan/vegetarian status and origins of ingredients that bear a fair-trade label. The name Open Food Facts comes from its data being freely available to all and for all uses. There is nothing to hide and they welcome the free exchange and sharing of its data.

What the NOVA score rates:

  • Group 1 (GREEN) - Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

  • Group 2 (YELLOW) - Processed culinary ingredients

  • Group 3 (ORANGE) - Processed foods

  • Group 4 (RED)- Ultra-processed food and drink products

Group 1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

Unprocessed (or natural) foods are edible parts of plants (seeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots) or of animals (muscle, offal, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae and water, after separation from nature.

Minimally processed foods are natural foods altered by processes that include removal of inedible or unwanted parts, and drying, crushing, grinding, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, non-alcoholic fermentation, pasteurization, refrigeration, chilling, freezing, placing in containers and vacuum-packaging. These processes are designed to preserve natural foods, to make them suitable for storage, or to make them safe or edible or more pleasant to consume. Many unprocessed or minimally processed foods are prepared and cooked at home or in restaurant kitchens in combination with processed culinary ingredients as dishes or meals.

Group 2. Processed culinary ingredients

Processed culinary ingredients, such as oils, butter, sugar and salt, are substances derived from Group 1 foods or from nature by processes that include pressing, refining, grinding, milling and drying. The purpose of such processes is to make durable products that are suitable for use in home and restaurant kitchens to prepare, season and cook Group 1 foods and to make with them varied and enjoyable hand-made dishes and meals, such as stews, soups and broths, salads, breads, preserves, drinks and desserts. They are not meant to be consumed by themselves, and are normally used in combination with Group 1 foods to make freshly prepared drinks, dishes and meals.

Group 3. Processed foods

Processed foods, such as bottled vegetables, canned fish, fruits in syrup, cheeses and freshly made breads, are made essentially by adding salt, oil, sugar or other substances from Group 2 to Group 1 foods.

Processes include various preservation or cooking methods, and, in the case of breads and cheese, non-alcoholic fermentation. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients, and are recognizable as modified versions of Group 1 foods. They are edible by themselves or, more usually, in combination with other foods. The purpose of processing here is to increase the durability of Group 1 foods, or to modify or enhance their sensory qualities.

Group 4. Ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, sweet or savory packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes, are not modified foods but formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 food.

Ingredients of these formulations usually include those also used in processed foods, such as sugars, oils, fats or salt. But ultra-processed products also include other sources of energy and nutrients not normally used in culinary preparations. Some of these are directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey and gluten.

Many are derived from further processing of food constituents, such as hydrogenated oils, hydrolyzed proteins, soy protein isolate, maltodextrin, invert sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Additives in ultra-processed foods include some also used in processed foods, such as preservatives, antioxidants and stabilizers. Classes of additives found only in ultra-processed products include those used to imitate or enhance the sensory qualities of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product. These additives include dyes and other colors, color stabilizers; flavors, flavor enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners; and processing aids such as carbonating, firming, bulking and anti-bulking, de-foaming, anti-caking and glazing agents, emulsifiers, sequestrants and humectants.

A multitude of sequences of processes is used to combine the usually many ingredients and to create the final product (hence 'ultra-processed'). The processes include several with no domestic equivalents, such as hydrogenation and hydrolyzation, extrusion and molding, and pre-processing for frying.

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