Food safety and traceability: South Korea pilots QR code labelling on infant formula, fruit juice

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea is piloting a QR code program that provides consumers with information on the ingredients and traceability of food products. ©Getty Images
South Korea is piloting a QR code program that provides consumers with information on the ingredients and traceability of food products. ©Getty Images

Related tags South korea MFDS Qr code

South Korea is piloting a QR code program that provides consumers with information on the ingredients and traceability of products such as infant formula, fruit juice, and noodles.

The program, known as Smart Food QR (스마트 푸드QR), will lead consumers to an electronic label (e-label).

Currently, six companies and 13 products are involved in the pilot program.

Examples include Maeil Dairies’ stage 1 to 3 infant and growing-up formulas marketed under the brand Absolute.

Others include fruit and vegetable juice sold by Pulmuone Greenjuice, cup noodles made by Nongshim, and sauce by Sempio Foods Company.

Consumers will be able to find out more about the products by scanning on the QR code printed on the product packaging using a smartphone camera. 

When it was first piloted last September, the QR code only contains information on the ingredient labelling. 

It has since expanded to include information on the products’ traceability, including the manufacturing process, the date of manufacturing and product expiry, the production volume, as well as the date and volume of products shipped.  

“The MFDS is promoting a pilot project to provide food information and safety management in a digital way so that consumers and the industry can conveniently utilise more diverse information,”​ the MFDS said in a statement​ released on March 21.

Consumers can also make a report on fraudulent or substandard products by scanning the QR code.

“The e-label also provides product recall information. Consumers can check for non-conforming information in real time and a function to report fraudulent or substandard food is available for consumers to make a report easily.”

Currently, food recall information is available via the Food Safety Korea website​ and the information is transmitted to the POS terminals at convenience stores and supermarkets etc to block the sale of unsafe foods which are identified via their barcode.

The MFDS has made it mandatory for manufacturers of special foods to provide food traceability​ information on its website since December 2021.

These include manufacturers of infant formulas, health functional foods, Foods for Special Medical Purposes (FSMPs), formula food for weight control, and foods for pregnant and lactating women.

Moving forward, the MFDS plans to establish a digital food platform known as K-Food DNA,

“We plan to continuously expand food information [derived from] using QR codes with the companies participating in this pilot project and build a digital food safety platform based on the results of the pilot project.

“Once the platform is established, it is expected that it will help increase the accessibility of various information for consumers and improve the usability of data for the industries, while the government will be able to use it to establish a speedy and accurate safety management system,” ​the MFDS said.  

QR code Vs Barcode

The QR code could contain and provide more information than barcode, the MFDS added.

According to the ministry, barcodes only contain information such as the product name and the manufacturer.

In contrast, there is “no limit” on the amount of information stored in the QR code, thus the products’ manufacturing, expiry dates, and lot number could be stored in the code.

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