The George Institute For Global Health
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FoodSwitch India

Project status: 
Active

​FoodSwitch is a free smartphone application designed by The George Institute for Global Health to support healthier food choices and prevent diet-related ill health. Its goal is to empower individuals to make healthier food choices by providing access to information and innovative tools.

Imagine you’re at your local supermarket. The many brand choices of packaged food can be overwhelming, and these products often contain surprisingly high levels of salt, sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules which may contribute to the risk of heart disease and stroke. How can you decide what to put in your basket and be sure you make the best and healthiest choice for you and your family? The FoodSwitch App can help you find out what is in the food you’re eating and suggest healthier alternatives for you and your family.

FoodSwitch both empowers consumers in their efforts to make better food choices, as well as uses the power of crowd sourcing to capture new data. In turn this helps research to support healthy changes to the food environment. The app has been launched in the following countries:

A version of the app for the Fiji and Samoa is in development. 

 

About FoodSwitch

Making even small changes to our diets, such as consuming a little less salt and added sugar, and eating less fat (particularly saturated fat) and energy (kilojoules) could prevent many health problems in India including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and type 2 diabetes. This could in turn help reduce the incidence of heart attacks, strokes and some cancers.

Starting in the supermarket aisle, FoodSwitch empowers you with access to information and innovative tools to help you make informed decisions about what you eat. 

FoodSwitch is a smartphone app that allows you to scan the barcodes of packaged foods at the supermarket or at home, using the camera on your phone. FoodSwitch then presents you with immediate, easy-to-understand information about that product’s nutritional make-up. Using a colour-coded system (red, amber and green) that is specific to each nutrient, it’s easy to see whether a food is less healthy, okay or a healthier option based on its total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content. You can also see a list of similar foods that are healthier choices.

FoodSwitch was first developed in Australia by The George Institute for Global Health.  For more information about FoodSwitch Australia please visit: www.georgeinstitute.org.au/projects/foodswitch

 

How FoodSwitch Works

FoodSwitch works by using the phone camera to acquire the barcode on a packaged food. It can tell what’s in the packaged food you’re eating, whether it’s high in salt, fat, sugar and kilojoules.

Scan:

Use the autofocus camera on a supported smartphone or tablet to scan a packaged food’s barcode to get easy-to-understand nutritional information.

The scanned item is then matched to a product in the database and nutritional information is immediately displayed on-screen in a consumer friendly traffic-light-label format so you can see at a glance how healthy the food item is.

Switch:

FoodSwitch then searches the database for similar but healthier products and displays them on screen alongside the selected item for comparison.

Each product in FoodSwitch has been rated using Traffic Light Labels for total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt so you can see at a glance how healthy it is. You'll also get a list of healthier food choices you could switch to.

Save and Support:

Add an item to a shopping list, share the information with others, or help us improve FoodSwitch by reporting any potential issues.

Save your healthy favourites on a shopping list ready to make the switch next time you shop. Export your lists or share them with your friends via social media.

 

Traffic Light Labels

Traffic Light Labels show how foods rate using colours. In ‘Traffic Light’ Labelling mode, you’ll see colour-coded ratings to let you know if a product is low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) for key food components (total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt). Red is less healthy, Amber is OK and Green is a healthier choice.

If the product is missing specific nutritional data, you will see a dash (-) below the relevant nutrient that is missing the data and the ‘Traffic Light’ will appear in a grey colour.

Vegetarian Status

The vegetarian status of a food product is indicated by a green circle on the pack.

If the product is labelled as vegetarian, it will be assigned a vegetarian status in the FoodSwitch app. A green side bar will appear next to the product once you scan it and the word ‘VEGETARIAN’ will appear at the top of the screen in green.  There will also be a message stating the following: ‘The manufacturer has labelled this product to be suitable for vegetarians. Please check the label.

 
 

 

Download FoodSwitch

Make FoodSwitch your pocket companion when at the supermarket or on the move with our smartphone app.

Use it to scan the barcodes of packaged food products for the same useful, easy-to-understand information at your fingertips:

For iPhone and iPad: For Android:

 

FAQs

What is FoodSwitch?

FoodSwitch gives you immediate, easy-to-understand information about packaged food products, as well as a list of similar foods that are healthier choices. You can access this through the app by scanning the product barcode using your smartphone camera.

Each nutrient in a product in FoodSwitch has been rated and by using the colour-coded Traffic-Light Labels, it makes it easy to see how healthy a food is based on nutrients like total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

How do I understand results in Traffic Light Label mode?

Each product in FoodSwitch is rated for its total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content. The Traffic Light ratings tell you if a product is low (green), medium (amber), or high (red) in these food components, based on widely-accepted nutritional standards.

How are healthier choices identified?

The app identifies healthier choices by comparing the overall nutritional value of foods. The algorithm used is based on the nutrient profiling system, which was originally developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It takes into account the different factors important to good nutrition, including fats, sugars, salt, energy, protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and (for some products) calcium.

Why is there a difference between the amount of salt displayed in FoodSwitch and the amount of sodium on the nutrition label of the packaging of a product?

FoodSwitch in Traffic Light Label mode displays values for salt, while the nutrition label on the packaging of a product usually lists sodium. The difference is that salt is made up of sodium and chloride. To get the salt content of a product, you would need to multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. FoodSwitch has already done this calculation for you.

Where does the nutritional information come from?

FoodSwitch is powered by a large, independent packaged food products database for India. However, because there are always new products coming on the market and some products are only available in certain areas, not all food products available in India are in the database yet. This is why we encourage FoodSwitch users to help us add to the database.

How can you be sure the information on the food label is correct?

We trust manufacturers to put the correct information on label. If something unusual is noticed please use the “Report Issue” function in the app to send us information.

What if the product I scan isn’t in the database?

If you scan a packaged food product that isn’t in the database, you’ll be invited to help us, by taking three photos – one of the front of the product, one of the nutrition label and one of the ingredient list. FoodSwitch will then automatically email these pictures to us to validate the item and add it to the database.

Please note that with users contributing hundreds of photos to the database every day, it can take some time for the product to appear in the FoodSwitch app. We also need to complete a series of quality control checks before listing products on the app. 

Why is the product listed, but the manufacturer says it is deleted?

Every day there are new products appearing on supermarket shelves, and products being removed from the market. It is almost impossible to keep up with a rapidly changing food supply. There may be times when the app has listed an alternate product that is no longer available. We ask consumers and manufacturers to “Help us” by using the “Report Issue” function in the app that allows information about an item to be sent, informing us it has been deleted or changed.

Why are the products listed in the Healthier Choices not available in this store?

Recording product availability across every supermarket in India is not possible. Instead the app lists a number of healthier choices available in India for the product scanned. If a healthier product listed is not available then your scanned item is the healthiest available at that location.

How can I be sure the information is correct?

The database is updated regularly by The George Institute for Global Health’s research team along with the help of FoodSwitch users who can send us feedback about products through the app, on the website, or by email at foodswitch.india@georgeinstitute.org. You’ll receive alerts from time to time when the database is updated and/or a new version of the app becomes available.

Why doesn’t the app include information about colours, preservatives, additives or GI?

At this stage, FoodSwitch does not include information on colours, preservatives, additives or glycaemic index (GI). We are collecting more information and future versions will aim to include more functionalities.

Do you have any relationship with food manufacturers? Will they provide any funding to you so that their product can be recommended?

We have no commercial relationship with any food manufacturers that would affect information presented. Products are recommended solely on the basis of their healthiness.

Why are we using Australian based algorithms and UK based standards? How do we think these are applicable for Indian consumers?

The health issues caused by packaged foods are basically the same irrespective of nationality.  Excess quantities of salt, sugar, harmful fat and calories are a problem for everyone.  We are using Australian based algorithms because they have undergone a lot of development. We will update the app using local government guidlines in the future if a need arises.

Is the ‘Healthier Choice’ good for all customers, including male/female, young/senior, and people who are suffering from diseases like kidney disease, diabetes etc.?

The healthier choices we suggest are the products that are on average the healthiest. People with particular diseases like high blood pressure or high cholesterol may need more specific advice and in the future we will be launching upgrades to the app that serve particularly patient groups.

How is FoodSwitch Australia different to India?

FoodSwitch India is different from FoodSwitch Australia in the following aspects: 1) only Traffic Light mode will be available for India, the Health Star Rating mode is an addition available in FoodSwitch Australia; 2) India nutrition labelling only requires the display of five core nutrients, therefore where information is missing we impute data based on similar products; 3) the initial launch of FoodSwitch India will only have the classic filter, more filters are available in FoodSwitch Australia; 4) missing values will be displayed as a dash in FoodSwitch India.

How often is the information reviewed and updated?

We have a team working on reviewing and updating the information on a daily basis. FoodSwitch will prompt when an update is available for download.

How does the ‘List’ function work in the app?

To create a new list:

  • Go to the ‘Lists’ page
  • Enter the name of a new list in the text box that says ‘Create a new list’
  • Tap on ‘Done’

To add a product to a list:

  • Swipe to the right or left on the product details to expand the information area
  • Tap on ‘Add to list’ to go to the ‘Lists’ page
  • Add the product to an existing list by tapping on the list.

To remove a product from a list:

  • Tap the ‘Edit’ button in the navigation bar on the ‘Lists’ screen
  • Tap on the red circle that appears to the left of the product you wish to remove
  • Tap on the red ‘Delete’ button that appears on the right.

To remove a list:

  • Go to the ‘Lists’ page
  • Tap the ‘Edit’ button in the navigation bar on the Lists screen
  • Tap on the red circle that appears to the left of the list you wish to remove
  • Tap on the red ‘Delete’ button that appears on the right.

Why should I be concerned about choosing healthy food?

Many everyday packaged foods can be high in salt, fat (including saturated fat) and sugar. They can also be high in energy (kilojoules), thanks to growing portion sizes. All these factors can contribute to health problems like obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes and high blood cholesterol. In turn, these can lead to a greater risk of heart attack, stroke and some cancers.

Making even small changes to our diets, like consuming less salt, sugar, fat (especially saturated fat) and energy (kilojoules), can prevent many of these health problems.

Currently, packaged product nutritional information in India is mostly restricted to a nutrition information panel. This can be tricky to find, read and interpret, often making it difficult for consumers to be informed and make healthier food choices.

What is front-of-pack (FoP) labelling?

In India, compulsory food composition labelling on packaged food products needs to include a nutrition label. This is often found on the back of the product in very small print. Studies show that the nutrition label only influences the food purchases of a small minority of people who are very motivated and well informed about how to make healthier food choices. Many studies suggest that front-of-pack (FoP) labelling systems can help consumers interpret the information and make healthier food choices.

Why use Traffic Light Labels?

Research shows many people find colour-coded labelling easier to understand than other systems. The Traffic Light Labels provide nutritional information based on 100g of a product. This helps consumers compare products quickly and easily. If a specific nutrient of a product has any nutritional data missing, it will appear in grey with a dash (-) under the nutrient that is missing.

How do I get the FoodSwitch app?

iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad1 users: Download FoodSwitch from the App Store, either online or on your device.

Android2 smartphone users: Download FoodSwitch from Google Play2, either online or on your Android smartphone.

The app is free of charge. An internet connection (3G or Wi-Fi) is required to download it and to share information by social media and email. Standard usage charges may apply – check with your internet and mobile service providers for more information.

What devices does the FoodSwitch app work on?

FoodSwitch works on:

  • Apple mobile devices that run on iOS version 7.0 or later that have a camera with auto-focus.
  • Android2 smartphones running Android version 4.3 and above that have a camera with auto-focus.

Please note: If you’re using a smartphone or tablet without a camera capable of auto-focus, FoodSwitch may not be compatible with your device. Without auto-focus, the pictures of the barcode will be blurry and FoodSwitch will be unable to identify the product.

Why isn’t the app scanning the barcode?

If you’re having trouble scanning with a compatible device, here are some tips that may help you scan more easily:

  • Shake or tap your phone to force the camera to auto-focus
  • Try again in a different light setting to avoid glare and shadows
  • Check the auto-focus capability of the camera. Try tapping on the screen at far and near objects to see if the focus changes
  • Try holding the object further away from the camera and make sure it doesn't fill the whole screen so that the auto-focus can find the barcode.

If you’re using a smartphone or tablet without a camera capable of auto-focus, FoodSwitch may not be compatible with this device. Without auto-focus, the pictures of the barcode will be blurry and FoodSwitch will be unable to identify the products.

Is FoodSwitch available to anyone?

FoodSwitch is free and available to everyone in India who uses an Apple or Android smartphone that supports the FoodSwitch app!

Is the app free?

The app is free of charge and available to everyone.

Why can't I access Twitter or Facebook?

Make sure your Wi-Fi or internet connection is working. You need a working Twitter or Facebook account before you can log on and post a message.

Can I use the app outside India?

FoodSwitch is designed specifically for each country and is different in each country in which it is released.  This is because the barcodes on foods are specific to each country.  If you use the India version of FoodSwitch outside of India it will likely give incorrect results.  Currently, FoodSwitch is only available in versions for India, China, Australia, the UK, South Africa and New Zealand. 

The FoodSwitch team is currently exploring opportunities to launch the app in other countries.

Who do I contact if I have a question that hasn’t been answered here?

You can give feedback or ask a question by email at foodswitch.india@georgeinstitute.org

See the full Terms and Conditions for more information.

 

1 iTunes iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries, App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc.

2 Android and Google Play are trademarks of Google Inc.

 

Disclaimer

© The George Institute for Global Health 2017.

FoodSwitch provides nutritional information based on a scientific algorithm developed by The George Institute for Global Health and is licensed from time to time to individual Sponsors to agreed territories.

The information has been developed and reviewed by health professionals and to the best of our knowledge is current and based on reputable sources of evidence at the time of publishing. Whilst every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the data, no warranty of this accuracy is provided. Some data required by the algorithm have been estimated to enable ranking of products. All users, especially those with special dietary requirements or food sensitivities, should assess the accuracy and relevance of this information for their personal circumstances.

The information should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical advice. The George Institute along with their sponsors and related entities are not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information, except that which cannot be excluded by law. For further Terms of Use please visit http://www.georgeinstitute.org.au/sites/default/files/foodswitch-terms-of-use.pdf