The George Institute For Global Health
Global
United Kingdom
India
China
Australia

FoodSwitch

Project status: 
Active

The FoodSwitch mobile App empowers consumers to make better food choices by providing simple health information on a scanned product and suggesting healthier alternatives to 'switch' to. The App also asks consumers to help-out by crowd-source images on new products. In turn this helps our research and advocacy for improved food environments.
FoodSwitch has been launched in the following countries:

FoodSwitch is a data-technology platform developed by The George Institute for Global Health to support the prevention of diet-related ill health around the world. Its goals are jointly to influence stakeholders across the food system to improve the food environment and also to empower individuals to make healthier food choices.  

Packaged food products often contain surprisingly high-levels of salt, sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules/calories which may contribute to diet related health risks such as heart disease and diabetes. However, the nutrition information on pack labels can be confusing and it can be difficult to choose between the different brands. The FoodSwitch App can help you find out what is in the food you’re buying and suggest healthier alternatives for you and your family.

 

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 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, the FoodSwitch App empowers you with access to information to help you make informed decisions about what you eat.

By scanning a the barcode of a food item, FoodSwitch presents you with immediate, easy-to-understand information about that product’s nutritional make-up. Results are presented as either a simple 'Health Star Rating' which scores a food between 0.5 stars (least healthy) to 5 stars (healthiest), or as colour-coded 'traffic light' icons that show key nutrients as green (good), amber (so-so), and red (bad). FoodSwitch also presents a list of similar foods that are healthier alternatives.

How FoodSwitch works

FoodSwitch works by using the phone camera to scan the barcode of a packaged food. It then uses science-based algorithms to calculate and then display simple nutrition profiles based on the nutrition content of the food.

Select

FoodSwitch comes with the core FoodSwitch filter and additionally other filters based on different health interests.

FoodSwitch - Select Filter

Scan

Scan the barcode on a packaged food to get easy-to-understand nutritional information.

View results as either a Health Star Rating (HSR) or traffic-light coloured icons for key nutrients and energy. Both modes deliver results for energy, saturated fat, sugar, and salt so you can see at a glance how healthy the food item is.  

FoodSwitch - Scan Barcode

Switch

When you scan a food product you’ll also get a list of healthier choices you can switch to.

The core FoodSwitch filter generates healthier choices by calculating the overall nutritional quality of foods. It uses the Health Star Rating algorithm to assess a range of different factors important to general health such as the amount of saturated fat, sugars, salt, energy, protein, dietary fibre, fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and for some products, calcium.

In the SaltSwitch, EnergySwitch, FatSwitch or SugarSwitch filters, the algorithm adapts the results based on the amount of the relevant nutrient (e.g. salt for SaltSwitch).

If you’re using GlutenSwitch, the healthier choices in GlutenSwitch include only gluten-free alternatives.

FoodSwitch - Healthier Choices

Support

Add an item to a shopping list, or report potential issues by simply swiping to the left or right of the screen for additional functions. 

FoodSwitch - Shopping List

 

FILTERS

FoodSwitch Classic

This filter is great for anyone looking to make overall healthier food choices. 

SaltSwitch

This filter is great for people with, or being treated for, high blood pressure. It’s also useful for people with heart disease and kidney disease because it only lists healthier choices that have a lower amount of salt than the scanned product. 

GlutenSwitch

This filter helps people living with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance to identify gluten-free products. 

Colour Gluten status

Red

Contains gluten

Amber

Likely gluten-free. This product is not marketed as gluten free but has no gluten-containing ingredients listed on the label.

Green    

Gluten-free. This product is reported as gluten free by the manufacturer and/or is naturally gluten free. Please check the label.

Grey

Unknown. This product has not yet been classified as gluten free or not and its gluten status is unknown.

It also gives you gluten-free alternatives listed in order of how healthy they are.

FatSwitch

This filter has been designed for people with, or being treated for, high cholesterol. This filter only lists healthier choices that have a lower amount of saturated fat than the scanned product. 

EnergySwitch

This filter can help people choose foods with lower energy (kilojoules) to help manage their energy needs or reduce the KJ (Calories) they consume.  

SugarSwitch

This filter helps people choose healthier foods with less total sugar.

 

VIEWING MODES

Traffic Light Labelling mode

Traffic Light icons show how key component of a food rates using colours - low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) for total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. Red is less healthy, Amber is OK and Green is a healthier choice. 

Health Star Rating mode

In Health Star Rating (HSR) mode, you’ll get an idea of how healthy a product is by a star rating from 0.5 to 5 stars. The higher the star rating, the healthier the food is overall. 

 

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 the results if I’m viewing results in Health Star Rating mode?

Each product you see in FoodSwitch has been rated for its amount of energy, saturated fat, sugar and salt, as well as for other important food components including protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and for some products, calcium. The Health Star Rating (HSR) considers all of these factors to give you an idea of how healthy the product is overall; a lower star rating indicates a less healthy choice and a higher star rating indicates a healthier choice.

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. 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 your country are in the database yet. This is why we encourage FoodSwitch users to help us add to the database using the “help us out” functionality.

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 out, by taking four photos – one of the barcode, one of the front of pack, 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 your country is not possible. Instead the app lists a number of healthier choices available in your country 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@georgeinstitute.org.au. 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 global 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 guidelines 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 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:

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

To add a product to a list:

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

To remove a product from a list:

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

To remove a list:

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

Why should I be concerned about choosing healthy foods?

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 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?

Around the world, 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 Health Star Ratings?

In June 2014, the Australian government agreed to the voluntary implementation of an interpretive ‘Health Star Rating’ (HSR) front-of-pack labelling system for packaged foods in Australia. The HSR System is based on an algorithm that awards a star rating, based on the quantity of specific food components within the product, which gives you an idea of how healthy the product is overall – a lower star rating indicates a less healthy choice and a higher star rating indicates a healthier choice.

The HSR system then makes it easier for you to compare similar products within a food category, based on their number of stars. This highlights that while all foods can have a place in your diet, some are better for you than others.

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 can I tell if a food product is vegetarian?

A vegetarian status is shown in all filters EXCEPT for the GlutenSwitch filter (note: GlutenSwitch is only applicable for some countries). If the manufacturer has labelled a product to be suitable for vegetarians, the product will be given a vegetarian status, indicated by the word "VEGETARIAN*" in green writing in the top right hand corner. Vegetarian healthier choices are identified by a green side bar. We advise you to always check the label.

How do I get the FoodSwitch app?

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

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

 

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

What devices does the FoodSwitch app work on?

FoodSwitch works on:

Apple iPhone devices that run on iOS version 7.1 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 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 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 a FoodSwitch country 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.

Can I use the app outside my country?

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. For example, if you use the Australian version of FoodSwitch outside of Australia it will likely give incorrect results.

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 mobilefeedback@georgeinstitute.org.au

 

TERMS OF USE

Download and read the FoodSwitch Global Terms of Use (PDF 386KB)
Download the read the FoodSwitch South Africa Terms of Use (PDF 232KB)

 

DISCLAIMERS

© 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-o....

We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your, or your family’s health.

1 iTunes and iPhone 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