How emojis could help people with food allergies These emoji cupcakes won't be much help in identifying food allergies, but future emojis could be a big help. (Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr/Kate Ter Haar)
How emojis could help people with food allergies

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Someday soon an emoji might literally save lives.

Hiroyuki Komatsu is a Google engineer who submitted a proposal. He proposed to add a range of new icons to the standard emoji library. It could help those with food allergies understand what they are eating anywhere in the world.

“Emoji should cover characters representing major food allergens,” Komatsu wrote in his proposal. “It enables people to understand what [ingredients] are used in foods even in foreign countries and safely select meals.”

Emojis are universal because they are chosen and developed by the Unicode Consortium. It is a non-profit corporation that oversees, develops and maintains how text is represented. This is in regards to all software products and standards. That's according to Alex Swerdloff writing for Vice Munchies. It’s thanks to the Unicode Standard that when you text a friend six pizza emojis, they’ll see those six pizza slices on their phone. This is true regardless of whether they use an iPhone or an Android.

Because emojis are everywhere and iconic, they could be helpful for restaurants and food packaging designers. They can communicate whether a product is made with common allergens. But as Komatsu’s proposal argues, many of the most common food allergens are missing or poorly represented by the current emoji library. Examples of these allergens include peanuts, soy and milk. 

There is an emoji for octopus, but nothing for squid. There is a loaf of bread that could symbolize gluten, but a bundle of wheat could be clearer. The emojis could be more direct when labeling foods.

It’s not uncommon for the Unicode Consortium to add new emojis to the library: several food-related emojis debuted last June, including a long-awaited taco emoji. Apple included support for multiracial emojis in a recent iOS update.  An artist even recreated Moby-Dick in emoji characters. Some might bemoan the continuing death of the written word if Komatsu’s proposal is accepted, but look on the bright side: if you ever see that happy poop on a carton, you’ll know to stay away.

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