Safeway Foodflex: Now more flexible


About a month ago, I posted a review of Safeway Foodflex , which intrigued me as a novel health management tool that uses data that is far more significant than that generated in medical care – what we eat. You can read the review here.  

I noted in the review that the site was down when I wrote my post – it was confirmed for me that this is because the site was in the midst of a major overhaul to improve its usability and focus. With that in mind I wanted to revisit to see what was different. I did get a little help understanding some of the features, but I have not spoken with the team at Safeway yet. They are of course welcome to comment/add information to what I write here!

The impact of transparent sharing

As the title of the post says, there is a really nice evolution happening here. First, its important to point out that the revolutionary concept that started with the last version is carried forward here – that your grocery will provide you (me) with the data we generate with our purchases and help us (me) leverage it for our health. Think about this for a minute – how much purchasing data do we generate in our daily lives, and how transparently is that shared with us?

A note about sharing personal data

In this blog review I struggled a bit regarding whether to share screenshots from my own account. Even though it’s perfectly legal, I have a rule in my professional life that I never demo my own medical record. My rationale behind this is that it’s poor form to use my account as a demo because it may unintentionally create an expectation for other employees/leaders that their personal medical information is sharable in public forums, even though there is no such expectation – my employer vigorously protects the privacy of its members/patients information. The better course is for organizations to create demonstration systems.

In this case, I decided that since I am a customer of Safeway and not an employee, that it’s okay since I’m not creating expectations for other customers or employees of Safeway. The application of the above is that I would not expect to see a Safeway employee demo this system using their own personal data.

I have blurred out my purchase details in any event.

Goal oriented: The case of sodium

I decided to focus on my intake of sodium, because I happen to dislike a lot of it in my diet, and as you can see from the screenshots below, I was able to go to household trend for sodium, zero in on a hidden source of it (fat free salad dressing, I really had no idea), find an alternative, and then see the impact on my trend. Slick.

What an improvement over conventional medical care today – in the doctor’s office we just don’t have time to review a person’s diet history, and usually just a few screening questions are possible, like “do you salt your food?” or “do you drink whole or nonfat milk?” I could imagine a nutritionist or a physician prescribing the use of this site with a goal to get sodium below a certain amount.

I think the site does a good job of not being prescriptive since it is not run by a health system – the focus is on USDA requirements without any valuation about whether there is “too much” of any nutrient. A health system involvement could make this a bit more relevant, by tying the results to clinical goals, however.

Future expansion

The site is not currently linked to for ordering of food. In addition, there still isn’t linkage to product images or food labels. I understand that this is a bit similar to the challenge in health care of putting drug labels and medication images together. It’s not an easy task.

Even more possibilities through integration of community and the health system

The site is a great example of Health 1.0 (and that’s a compliment, the competition is Health 0.0), through its liberation and simple management of the data. The power of this information included in a patient’s health record could be significant.

For example, in the future people could compare food choices with other patients who identify themselves with certain chronic conditions and maybe the quality of the management. You could ask, “Show me the shopping list of people with hemoglobin A1c’s under 7.0”

Or as Susannah Fox noted in a comment on the last post, “show me the shopping list of other families managing severe food allergies,” and “allow me to send a list of products (or evan a full shopping order) to family who we are visiting in preparation for a visit.”

In interactions with the health system, in a future world, maybe there could be a print format co-designed with a health system for reporting nutrient intake, and setting goals. In a world of HIT interoperability, I’d also be interested in standards for electronically conveying nutritional information into a personal health record, and ultimately into an electronic health record for use in medical care.

And of course let’s not forget even farther ranging applications, like Twitter integration (“Mother, I noticed on your Twitterfeed that your caloric intake is down over the past 2 weeks, are you feeling okay?”) and mobility.

A PHR for Food

I think Safeway’s work in this area should be watched and supported – I can imagine so many exam room conversations that could be impacted by a good discussion of what we eat. The foundation for those discussions is information – perhaps a discussion of Food 2.0 might be worthwhile at the upcoming Health 2.0 conference…..

Images: Click on any to see larger


[…] Safeway foodflex was a great Health 2.0 innovation, trumpeted in this community with on stage appearances by Safeway executives and on this blog (“Safeway Foodflex, somewhat flexible“) though my own use and then a slightly-off-the-record conversation with one of the developers after it was re-rolled (“Safeway Foodflex, Now more flexible“). […]


Good question. Since the disappearance of services like Food Flex, it has become more about community-wide technology – check out this presentation I recently gave at Stanford. I probably need to break out some of these ideas into individual posts, including the Washington, DC trail sensor network. Thanks for stopping by.

Ted Eytan, MD