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Food Allergy Emojis Could Be Coming to Smartphones and Menus

A Japanese Google engineer is hoping that new emojis for common allergens could create safer dining for those with allergies.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jul 30 2015, 5:15pm

Photo via Flickr user qasic

"First there was silence and then came the emoji"- Book of Jobs 4:2.

Hiroyuki Komatsu, a Google engineer, has an idea. Why not make standardized emoji for the most typical food allergens? That way, people with allergies can look for the emoji on products or menus and know what to avoid.

His proposal, "Preliminary Proposal to Add Emoji Characters for Food Allergens," is now under discussion, but has not yet been adopted. Whether or not that happens is up to the Unicode Consortium—a non-profit corporation "devoted to developing, maintaining, and promoting . . . the Unicode Standard, which specifies the representation of text in all modern software products and standards." Yup, they are pretty much the emoji boss. Sorry, Bruce Springsteen.

READ: The Taco and Burrito Emojis Are About to Change Everything

According to Komatsu's proposal, many common allergens—including peanuts, soybeans, and almonds—are not represented at all by standardized emoji. Others, like eggs, milk, and shrimp, have what he calls "weak alternatives." Milk, for example, is represented only by a baby bottle—not quite the clearest representation for those of us over the age of 18 months. (My vote would be for some sort of giant, undulating udder, especially considering it would leave room for some awesomely freaky overlap in subject.)

But back to reality, several food-related emoji were added to the standardized list this last June, including a taco, a bottle with popping cork, and a block of cheese. This was part of Unicode 8.0, an update from the Unicode Consortium. Rolling eyes, a money-mouth face (super useful, I have found), and a unicorn were also essential additions to our growing alternative alphabet. All this talk of emojis now has me pretty certain that the end times are going to come about as soon as they release an emoji of an emoji.

Komatsu's recommendations were not part of that update, as there is evidently a long process before something becomes a standard emoji—his proposal is only in the earliest stages of that process.

The new allergy-related emoji would include icons for typical allergens such as peanuts, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, sesame, and lupin. Kiwi fruit—evidently also a common allergen—would be represented by a slice of the fruit, and celery by a single stalk.

Komatsu suggests a pile of sesame seeds to represent sesame, the flowering plant for lupin, and a squeeze bottle for mustard. Seriously though, these emoji would be infinitely better if they instead chose to portray the hivey reactions of the unfortunate allergy sufferers instead of the food products themselves, don't you think?

In any event, this industrious Google engineer explains that his purpose in the project is to protect those with allergies: "Emoji should cover characters representing major food allergens. It enables people to understand what nutritions [sic] are used in foods even in foreign countries and safely select meals."

As Komatsu points out, "Peanuts and soybeans a​re food allergens recommended to be always declared. The current emoji set do not have alternatives for them."

Clearly, when we all become pulsating balls of gas unable speak without telepathically projecting emojis into our Skynet hivemind, Komatsu may very well be considered our Shakespeare.

And in the meantime, people with allergies may be very grateful to him, indeed.