USDA Releases Food Safety App

May 8, 2011 Updated: May 8, 2011

Consumers looking to get an instant response to food safety questions while on the go, whether shopping or barbecuing at the grill, can now reach into their pockets and pull out their smartphones. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is launching an app that offers food safety advice.

"FSIS has a wealth of tips and useful information to help as you shop, prepare, and store food," said Undersecretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen in a news release. "People are using mobile devices more and more to get quick information, so we've adapted our tools, allowing more people to get food safety messages faster."

In a blog posting, Hagen said, "We’ve seen that Karen’s most frequently asked questions are not the type of things people wonder while sitting at a computer. 'Is food safe if left out overnight?' or 'Should I wash chicken before cooking it?' are questions you need answered right away, not while you’re checking e-mails."

The USDA estimates 76 million cases of foodborne illness each year.

The smartphone app, called "Ask Karen" features a virtual food safety representative, and aims to provide consumers fast, reliable food safety information about handling, storing, and preparing food to prevent illness.

The app is a mobile version of the existing Ask Karen website. Consumers using either a smartphone or computer can search for 1,500 answers by product or topic, or chat live with a representative.

The app is currently optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, says the USDA, and can be accessed through