Do you know what you're eating? A "truth" detector has the answers

Scanning tech shows what's inside your produc... 04:01

Inside a Target warehouse in Lake City, Florida, Calvin Solomon spends eight hours each day holding what looks like a gun, shooting light into fruits and vegetables.

The "gun" is actually something called a mass spectrometer that scans the produce, identifying a sort of fingerprint of each item. Greg Shewmaker, Target's entrepreneur in residence, came up with the idea.

"What we want to do is be able to create that profile, to say, 'How does that differ? Or does it differ?'" Shewmaker said. "Every time he presses this button, we get essentially five pictures of that strawberry."

This machine is a prototype of what the company hopes will one day be a scanner that will tell consumers everything they could want to know about their food, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.

"It's going to let us know, and the customers know, what they're buying, where it's from, and how long it's going to last."

The work is happening in Florida and in Cambridge, where Target is partnering with design firm IDEO and MIT researchers to create transparency in the food system.

"We know less about the food we eat today than in any other time in history," Shewmaker said.

Back at Target's warehouse, the scanning has gone on for a month. Thousands of items have been analyzed for nutrient content and freshness.

Each wavy line that shows on a monitor measures a particular level - like for Vitamin C, antioxidants or moisture - which can indicate the ripeness of each piece of fruit.

The hope is that one day, a single scan will uncover information like where the fruit was grown, even down to which side got more sunlight, when it was picked and how long it could be before it goes bad.

And produce is just the beginning. The team's ultimate goal is to eventually be able to track and identify all foods around the globe, then hopefully equip consumers with their own hand-held devices or smartphone apps to use to scan food.

Currently, the grocery manufacturers association said roughly 10 percent of food purchases are adulterated or misidentified, including horse meat labeled as "beef," fine wines diluted with water, or farmed salmon marked as "wild."

Marie Braggs, an assistant professor of global public health at New York University, said this effort contrasts with what she often sees happening in the food industry.

"We know how much cotton and spandex are in our clothing products, but we don't actually know what's in our food, which is pretty striking," Braggs said. "The industry spends a lot of money and effort to prevent consumers from knowing what exactly is in their food. So it's in their benefit for us to not really know how long products have been on the shelf or what exactly is in them."

But in the future, consumers may not have to depend on any company for the information they need.

"Think about if you say, 'hey our produce is fresher.' And guess what? We're going to arm you with the ability to fact check that,'" Shewmaker said.