10:32am

Fri May 4, 2012
The Salt

The 'Smart Fridge' Finds The Lost Lettuce, For A Price

Originally published on Mon May 7, 2012 9:24 am

Here at The Salt, we've taken note of the all-too-common habit of letting food rot in the fridge. Food waste can cost hundreds of dollars a year, and once it arrives at a landfill to decompose, it turns into a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. And that makes us feel guilty.

Now some home appliance companies are banking on the hope that some consumers will turn over their food waste worries to a computer inside their fridge.

Recently, two companies have debuted so-called "smart fridges," which will helpfully track expiration dates on highly perishable foods like milk and help us find the lettuce before it wilts. But at what cost?

Last year, Samsung released its LCD refrigerator with apps, a beastly fridge available in 28- or 30-cubic foot capacity, and outfitted with an LCD screen, WiFi, and recipe apps like Epicurious that can link with a smartphone. This year, Samsung added a grocery manager app to to the fridge, complete with an internal map, so that even if you forgot when you shoved that bag of spinach, the fridge will know.

The companies say it's all about the food. "The idea is to, number one, make sure you use it, and number two, make sure you don't lose it," Kurt Jovais, Samsung's vice president of home appliances, tells The Salt.

"People are spending a lot of money on fresh produce, and they're sticking it in the crisper bin, only to find it wilted. Or they go to the store and buy a third batch of spring onions because they forgot they already had them," Jovais says.

In January, LG launched its own Smart Manager fridge at the CES technology fair in Las Vegas. Like the Samsung fridge, this one is connected to the Internet and has a "food management system" to help you keep track of the location and expiration dates of food inside the fridge.

LG has also created a direct line from your fridge to the grocery store with an online grocery shopping app through the LCD panel or your smartphone. "These features eliminate the hassle of having to write down grocery shopping lists the old-fashioned way or the need to visit the grocery store, saving time and increasing convenience," the company notes.

One big problem with these fancy, intelligent fridges is the pricetag. Samsung retails its fridge for $3499, and LG's goes for $3200. That's double or even triple the cost of a regular old one.

Also, some tech analysts aren't sure people want to talk to the fridge.

"No one wants the obligation of keeping their fridge informed unless they're seriously short on inter-personal relationships," writes Susie Steiner, a house and home blogger for The Guardian.

And then, once the companies have your shopping list, there are some potential privacy and security concerns.

"Internet connected smart houses and security systems can be hacked and used to facilitate bad guys while hindering the home owners," says AT&T Tech Security Principal Jim Boxmyer on the Networking Exchange Blog.

But we want to know: Will my pint of mint chip furtively stashed in the freezer prompt the fridge to alert Weight Watchers?

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.