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November 18, 2011 > Keeping food safe

Keeping food safe

Submitted By Shayne Bhatia, Ryan Halim, Mihir Baya and Sohum Desai

Editor's Note: This article was written by a group of 6th grade students from John Gomes Elementary School in Fremont. This is their first year participating in a robotics competition organized by First Lego League (FLL). For this year's theme of "Keep the Food Safe," participants have to program a robot to solve Food Safety missions, while doing research on a real-world problem. Students must present the research as well as an innovative solution. The East Bay Qualifier round of this competition will take place Sunday November 20, from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. at Irvington High School in Fremont. For more information, visit

Have you heard of the various voluntary food recalls by the Food and Drug Administration? Foods can be recalled for a number of different reasons ranging from contamination to incorrect labels to improper preparation. Food borne diseases could be caused by a variety of toxins affecting the environment. This year, First Lego League's theme relates to major problems in the world and encourages us to "Keep Food Safe." Food contamination from bacteria and viruses cause serious health problems, sickness and sometimes even death. Scientists and governments are working hard to find newer and better ways to prevent contamination.

On this rookie journey of our team, "Farm Fowl Robots," the main goal was to work towards an innovative solution to solve this problem. We researched, understood, analyzed, and recorded data about overall food contamination. Then we decided to base our research on "chicken contamination" at every particular stage in its journey from the farm to when it is put on the table ready to eat. We realized that at every stage: on ground at the farm, in transport, in processing facilities, at distribution points, and finally, in the kitchen or while serving; food can become contaminated. So, safe food handling is critical at all stages.

Our extensive research and documentation was based on reviewing scientific articles, researching the internet, reading newspapers and magazines and watching several videos about the food industry. We interviewed multiple professionals that work in the food industry. On meeting a food inspector who worked at Fresh Choice restaurant chain, we learned that black light and infrared light are used to detect contaminants in food. Food inspectors monitor food to ensure that it will not cause food borne illness or outbreaks. We explained our task and asked a variety of questions related to food contamination.

Our next trip was to Subway on Mission Blvd., where we learned that replacing cutting boards is essential and hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of diseases. Good hygiene practices before, during, and after food preparation can reduce the chances of getting an illness.

Ms. Valerie Spier, Clinical Dietician/Diabetes educator, Nutrition Services at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Fremont, informed us on how to prevent illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and suggested diet modifications. Did you know that bacteria thrive on protein and sugars the most? Or, that salt is a natural ingredient that can kill bacteria? She encouraged us to promote sound eating habits, and shared ideas on food safety rules with our team.

Our team proposed and designed a solution -a portable hand held device equipped with a camera connected to a screen, a black light and infrared light. We were enthusiastic and eager to share these two months of hard work and preparation by presenting our project at the Alameda County Library in Fremont. We were excited to deliver our presentation, answer questions and raise public awareness on food safety.

Food contamination is a major public health issue. The next time, you tear into that chicken burger make sure you are not getting food poisoning on the side! Going forward, our team realized that no matter how big a problem may be, we have the ability to change the world and solve major problems by being creative, innovative, positive and working together as a team. Robotics helped us think "out of the box" and encouraged us to come together to solve everyday problems. Thank you FLL for providing us with a great challenge and an opportunity to make a difference. Stay safe!

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