Food safety app puts USDA data on your smartphone

How long will that ground beef keep in the fridge? The answer is as close as your smartphone thanks to a new USDA app that's another example of agencies trying to bring their data to a broader audience.

How long will that ground beef keep in the fridge? To find out, you could Google it and find a bunch of conflicting answers on a Yahoo question thread. Or, you could just download the FoodKeeper mobile app.

The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service just tapped DMI Inc. to launch the app for Apple and Android devices, and you can download it at no cost right now.

The app is just the latest example of how government agencies are turning to contractors to bring on more consumer-oriented services.

“The app is a very user-friendly way to share food safety information,” said Adam McNair, president of DMI’s Civilian Solutions division. “Usually, communicating that information has historically been through a bunch of very complex, non-friendly documents,” McNair said.

With FoodKeeper, users open up the application and are immediately met with a list of food items from baby food to seafood to vegetarian proteins like miso. Once you click on a category, the list gets more specific. If you click on meat, you’ll then be asked to identify what kind—fresh, smoked, etc.—and then the app will list various cuts of meat and tell you how long they will last in a refrigerator or if frozen.

From USDA solicitation to actual launch of the application, the process was quick. “[The solicitation] was on the street for about two weeks. It took about a month to be awarded,” McNair said. The company usually has a prototype of the app ready in around two weeks, McNair said, but the deployment takes a little longer.

The company is so agile because it has been in this space since the time when the web started to transform the way the government did business. That was 2002.

“We’re now maintaining federal systems in more than 40 different agencies at this point and working with them to modernize, whether that means a more responsive web presence, web presence in mobile devices, or if that means taking their infrastructure to a place where it facilitates mobility,” McNair said.

DMI does this sort of thing for a number of other agencies, too. The two approaches that have the most benefit and impact, McNair said, are applications that run on any mobile device, or responsive design websites where you can view a website on any platform and it would look right.

“We have dozens of active projects in the civilian government space right now where we’re doing exactly that,” he said. “We’ve built mobile inspection applications, we’ve built mobile workflow applications, we’ve built data collection and survey applications—this is exactly what we’re trying to do to help the federal government interact with its users.”

Other customers range from the Homeland Security Department, which DMI does a lot of application development with, to the State, Labor and Health and Human Services Departments.

There is always room to take on more customers, though. “Pretty much every customer who we talk to, they either have mobility and these types of applications on their roadmap, or they are interested in having them there,” McNair said. DMI sees this as a major trend moving forward.