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07/19/17: A few months ago while I was at work, I had a brilliant idea. If you've ever microwaved a frozen dinner, you've probably overcooked some and undercooked some before finding the exact time that you need to get it just right. On most modern microwave ovens, there are a lot of factors that affect the success of your meal preparation. The cook time, the cook temperature, the wattage of the device, and if the plate inside rotates or not. The packages have now evolved so that most of them now have a range ("Cook 3 to 4 minutes") and specifically states that the directions were developed with a XXXX-watt microwave oven and that because "Appliances vary," we may need to "adjust cooking times as needed." But say you're new to the office and don't have experience with that particular device (or you're too lazy to care.) How can you ensure your frozen lunch will be cooked properly?
     Here's my idea: what if there was a barcode on the package that the microwave oven can scan, or maybe you can scan it with your smartphone and link up to the microwave, that would identify the correct cooking instructions as developed by the vendor? Those cooking instructions could be interpreted by some logic in the oven that because it knows what the wattage of the oven is, and whether the platen is rotating or not, it will automatically adjust the cook time for that particular oven. Say you have a package that says to cook 3 minutes in a 1000-watt oven, but when you scan the barcode, the oven knows that it's actually 1500 watts, so it sets the time for two-and-a-half minutes. Or you have a 900-watt microwave that doesn't have a built-in turntable, so it sets the time for three-and-a-half minutes, and stops halfway through to prompt you to rotate the package 90 degrees before continuing.
     When I mentioned this to the guys at work, there was some initial snickering, but then we talked about barriers to implementing something like this. The technical aspects shouldn't be an issue. While microwave oven manufacturers might not be keen to build barcode scanners into their ovens, they certainly couldn't object to developing the logic to calculate cooking parameters, and it must not be too expensive to include a bluetooth module because everything these days seems to want to talk to your phone, so they can rely on your paired smartphone for the actual scanning. I know that QR codes can hold a ton of data, so getting the details into the barcode is not a problem. The guys pointed out to me that the main flaw would be in developing some kind of universal set of instructions that all the food vendors and oven manufacturers could agree on. We thought that the food people agreeing on something would be the biggest roadblock.
     Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked at my frozen lunch today and saw this little detail on the bottom of the package. It seems that a group of retailers and manufacturers have developed a site they call "Smartlabel" to share information beyond what is printed on the label, including "things such as nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories & safe handling instructions, company/brand information, along with other pertinent information about the product."
     Sounds to me like now we just need to get the microwave oven manufacturers on board to make my idea a reality, after which we never will have to suffer through an incorrectly-cooked frozen dinner again! As a friend of mine is fond of saying, we truly are living in amazing times.

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