Category Archives: Food Safety

Visit the Experts: Giant Eagle Corporate Vice President of Risk Management

Found this in the draft folder. A crucial part of our team’s story, I’m sorry you missed it. Now step into the time warp, and the post as it should have looked weeks ago…

Today we took a field trip to the Giant Eagle Corporate Headquarters to meet with Mike Sealy, the Vice President of Risk Management, and his senior staff. They listened and talked to use about the various facets of our presentation. They offered valuable advice, such as putting dedicated Omni-Label scanners in the grocery aisles, as well as the cash registers. They loved our idea and said they thought it would be a valuable tool in tracing recalls. Then he gave each of us a goodie bag with chocolate covered pretzels.

We later received the following email from one of Mr. Sealy’s staff members.

“Mary Beth,

I was very impressed with the Robot Project team’s presentation last week.  The depth of their research was truly on par with what I expect from college students we hire as interns.  Their ability to then work as a team to transition that research into a meaningful solution, really stood out to us.  Lastly, I can’t say enough about each individual’s presentation skills and composure.  Presenting to a group is difficult enough, without the added pressure of the audience being comprised of individuals with decades of technical experience.

I also wanted to comment on the label idea.  I am very genuine in suggesting the team explore the potential of a patent.   I must admit, I have some concern in terms of the overall application for recalls, due to the need for regulatory support to require this type of change from the current labeling process.  However, I believe there could be tremendous applicability in connection with the current push to provide customers with quick access to key nutritional information.  There are a number of systems currently showing up on tags on grocery shelves that apply numerical values relative to nutrition, or state nutritional claims.  However, there isn’t anything that I am aware of that provides the ability to personally customize the information to your individual needs.  And, I think that the growing population of health conscious consumers are more likely to want to take a few seconds to scan an item that they have questions about to ensure that it meets their needs; instead of investing the time required to fully review a nutritional panel and label to try to pull out the specific details of interest.

I wish the team luck in the contest and their future pursuits.  Although, with the skills they possess, I am certain they will make their own luck.


I think this is an awesome endorsement and will be sure to show it to the judges. Until next time! -Conlon N

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Food Safety, Project


Allergy Fun Facts

Megan drew this egg. Isn't she talented? We are putting it on our TShirt.

Every 3 minutes, someone goes to the emergency room from a food allergy– and every 6 minutes the reaction is potentially fatal anaphylaxis.

In 2008 there were over 50,000 cases of anaphylaxis from food allergies in the United States alone.

Most allergic reactions are from foods thought to be safe, but which were mislabeled or contaminated during processing.

Wikipedia defines anaphylaxis as a serious allergic reaction that comes on very quick and could cause death. One symptom is throat swelling. Others are an itchy rash and low blood pressure.


Julia N.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Food Safety, Project


QR Codes

Conlon here. As a bit of an explanation of some of the tech we throw around the site, we wanted to add this blurb talking a bit about QR codes. (Thanks to Ashley for writing this!) As always, leave a comment with a question and we’ll get back to you.

 QR codes, short for “quick response codes”, carry information in the vertical direction and the horizontal direction, allowing them to carry much more data than the ordinary bar codes. QR codes are capable of storing texts, URLs, email addresses, coupons, and other useful information in a very small area. Also, they can be read by a QR code scanner app. They are being used in a wide variety of applications, such as manufacturing, logistics, and sales applications. QR codes are also used in common everyday uses, such as paperback spines, rental video cases, sushi plates, product packaging, magazine articles, ads and many more things!

We think QR codes are pretty cool, and are incorporating them into our food safety solution. There are many tools available to create them. We use to create codes, and Photoshop Elements to add fun graphics to them. We have an assortment of QR code scanners downloaded to our iPods and Smartphones and have fun testing them out. We are even putting a QR code on our T-Shirt! We are ordering them this year from and crossing our fingers that they scan. I honestly don’t think we will have a problem, but you never know.

And here someone on our team will jump out and say the single most overused line this season. “What could possibly go wrong?” I’m sick of how true it is.

Working through some software hiccups with our faithful NXT. Our secondary robot died, so we’re looking for a suitable replacement.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Food Safety, Project


Lettuce Recall in PA, OH, IA (and what we found out about the life-cycle of a recall today)

This year’s FLL challenge involves food safety. Here we will periodically post leading news stories about contamination in our food supply, both nationally and locally. This one jumped out at us because Giant Eagle is one of the few local grocery stores in our area, and I had a salad last night. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t made from one of the tainted packages of lettuce!)

If you do think that you have eaten a food item that you suspect of food poisoning, (after you call your doctor, ER, and/or 911) notify your state or county Health Department to initiate an investigation and possible recall. In our research, we discovered that it only takes two local reports of food poisoning within a specified period of time to trigger an outbreak investigation. State health departments analyze disease  reports, coordinate with  County health departments, and report cases of foodborne illness to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  {We are trying to figure out what happens next here, but we suspect the use of computer databases called FoodNet and Pulsenet  to search for similar outbreaks in neighboring counties and/or states.}  During a multi-state  outbreak, the  CDC  does investiagation to identify the source and scope. FDA gets involved in  when an outbreak has been identified and a food product is suspected as the cause. The USDA gets involved when raw meat, poultry and eggs are involved. Once notified, the FDA’s job is notify everyone (this is the recall that we hear about on the nightly news), identify the contamination problem and even take regulatory action to keep it from happening again.

Here’s something that surprised us. Almost all recalls are voluntary on the company’s part.  We think that it would be very very bad for business if the problem were so bad that a recall was forced by the government! Anyway, at some point in this recall life-cycle, (find out how long), the company  issues a voluntary recall of the affected food.  The FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) is the agency that verifies that the recalled items are off of the shelves. If it is on a farm, than the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) gets involved as well.

So in conclusion, these local, state and federal agencies work to find out why the contamination occurred, they take steps to control the contamination, and look for ways to prevent future outbreaks. They may trace foods to their origins, test foods, make sure safe food handling is happening in the factories, lead farm investigations, and announce food recalls.   This all takes a very long time (how long exactly?) and we are hoping that our solution will help shorten this process.

Our next lesson on recalls on this blog will have to do with the laws in place that apply. I know you will all be waiting to read about that!

And no, before you ask, our project has NOTHING to do with recalls. ;D Or maybe it has everything to do with recalls. I am not saying!

Here is the Lettuce recall info:

  • The lettuce was produced by River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC, with a use-by date of October 14. There have been no reported cases of customer illness because of eating the lettuce.
  • This Reuters article misleadingly tries to sensationalize the recall by mentioning the Cantaloupe lysteria recall, which was serious and caused many deaths.
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Food Safety, Project

%d bloggers like this: