Fake food challenge: there’s tech for that

Verified by GS1 registries functions as an ID card for products.

Verified by GS1 registries functions as an ID card for products.

Published Mar 12, 2024


It has become very difficult to distinguish an authentic product from a fake product. Fake goods manufacturers have become so advanced that consumers are fooled into buying a product assuming they are buying an original version.

In South Africa, this has resulted in people dying from eating expired goods sourced from traders who presented them to the market as authentic products. Authorities have attempted to curb this challenge; however, their efforts have failed. Now, there’s a tech solution to the fake goods challenge.

As the world is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the barcode, the organisation GS1 that brought us the barcode was in South Africa to launch what it’s called Verified by GS1. Essentially, GS1 (non-profit entity) has brought the barcode and QR code together to assist consumers with getting more verified information about products. This is one of the most important interventions in the fight against fake goods. In the South African context, it has been launched with an app that will assist local consumers and traders to share verified product information.

Speaking about the technology, Zinhle Tyikwe, the CEO of GS1 South Africa, said Verified by GS1 registries function as an “ID card” for products. She said it authenticates the identity of a packaged product using seven key attributes, with the product information securely stored in the Verified by GS1 Registry, which the brand owner maintains.

“As we face challenges like counterfeiting and illicit goods, this app linked to Verified by GS1 gives consumers the power to authenticate goods that they buy and is our contribution to national and industry efforts to ensure that we deal with the scourge of counterfeiting and, importantly, ensure consumers are buying trusted products,” she said

In simple terms, this new development means that consumers will now have the ability to check more information about a product using a mobile and scanning a QR code. By simply using a mobile, consumers will be able to verify the authenticity of a product.

Eldrid Jordaan, who leads Suppple, the company that developed the Verified by GS1 app in collaboration with GS1, had this to say about this development: “At Suppple we take immense pride in our collaboration on the Verified by GS1 SA app that connects citizens with 500 billion products globally. But it’s more than the scale, it’s also about playing a role in the fight against illicit trade and safeguarding citizens, giving them the power”.

This is a step in the right direction towards safeguarding consumers against corrupt traders.

It is a welcomed move towards assisting consumers with food safety. The next big challenge that GS1 will have to tackle is fake medicine. There’s a greater need for communities to be better informed about the medicine they consume.

Already there’s a litany of medical products that are faked by traders who are just after profit. The solution presented by GS1 will just require people to have some digital literacy and perhaps a better mobile device to use their mobile phones to get product information.

In the future, it will probably form part of eyewear that will enable consumers to read QR codes and get information on just about any product.

It is my hope that we will see more tech products such as these with the power to save lives. This is just one of the great examples of how data can be used for advancement. It is also a basis upon which AI can be used for advancement instead of just trivial things. If this product succeeds, its AI version will probably add another layer of protection.

Wesley Diphoko is a technology analyst. You can follow him on X via: @WesleyDiphoko