I have been slowly building up my pantry over the last few years; going from a few extra days worth of food, to several months worth now. In the beginning, even with only a small box of food items, expiration dates would seem to sneak up on me. When my food stores reached the one month level I tried keeping a written inventory. Maintaining this pen and paper approach to keeping track of my food stores was cumbersome to say the least and expired items would still seemingly appear out of the blue.
One day, last November, I was sitting there on the pantry floor, surrounded by canned goods, entering line after line of items in my inventory notebook, wondering if there was a better way. Typing everything into a spreadsheet wouldn’t be much of an improvement. It would be great if I could just use my iPhone to ‘zap’ items in and out of inventory. It would be even better if it would also warn me when items were about to expire.
An idea started to form. First and foremost, I wanted an app that I could use to scan the barcode to enter an item into inventory and scan the barcode to remove it from inventory. It had to be quick and easy to use because if it wasn’t, I just wouldn’t use it. Second, the app needed to track expiration dates. What’s the use of tracking an inventory of perishables without knowing when they expire? Finally, once an item was removed from inventory I wanted it put into a shopping list so that I could replace it.
The search began. There are a few apps out there that have some of the features I was looking for. I bought a couple of apps and downloaded a few others that were free to try. Some apps did barcode based inventory control, but no expiration dates. Other apps did inventory with expiration dates, but no barcode reading. Many of the apps were just difficult to use.
After some pretty extensive research, I decided to build my own app. Prep & Pantry version 1.0 was released June 16th. I’ve already released 3 or 4 updates, so the app has been smoothed out a bit, most of the bugs have been fixed, and a couple of features have been added.
Introducing Prep & Pantry for iPhone
When I created Prep & Pantry, my primary intention was to make it easier to inventory the contents of a pantry and to keep track of expiration dates. With a small tweak to the code I was also able to keep an inventory of my bug-out-bag and my first aid supplies. Some people are using the app to track coupons in addition to food inventory. I thought this was such a great idea, I now plan to integrate a specific coupon tracking feature into the app that ties in with the pantry items and the shopping cart feature.
One of the biggest features of the app is the online UPC look-up. When this is enabled, the app will take your entered barcode, send it to one of the two online databases, and if found, will return the item name. Not having to enter the item name each and every time really speeds up item entry.
When you first download the app, it is basically a blank slate and getting started is easy.
First you have to decide if you want the online UPC look-up feature enabled. This is found under settings. I really enjoy this feature so I highly recommend using it. That’s all there is for setup. You are ready to start entering items.
There are two options for entering the item barcode. Manual entry and barcode scanning. You need to have an iPhone 4 or 3GS, an iPad 2, or the iPod touch 4th generation to use the barcode scanner. If you are using an iPod touch 4G check out the support section of PrepAndPantry.com for some scanning tips. The iPod touch camera works a little differently and while it’s still quick and easy to use, it just takes a slightly different “touch”.
After entering the barcode Prep & Pantry will go get the item name and fill in the ‘item name’ field for you on the Add New Item screen. On this screen you can add a picture of the item, a description, and there is an option for tagging the item here too. Scroll down to enter the location and quantity; a little further down you will enter the expiration date. If you have only one location, a pantry for instance, the app will default to this. Press “Save” and you’re done. With Prep & Pantry’s automated features, items can be entered in as few as two taps!
To use an item from inventory is also super easy. Prep & Pantry first starts up on the green screen, this is the Add Items screen, to remove items from your inventory you need to be on the red Remove Item screen. Tapping on the Remove Item button will take you to the red screen, or my favorite way, flicking the screen from right to left. From the red screen, just enter the barcode number like before and you’re taken to the Remove Items screen. Here the items are presented to you by location and quantity. Tap “Remove” on the line of the specific item you are using. Tap “Save” to finish.
Prep & Pantry gives you several options for viewing your inventory. Alphabetical, by expiration, and by location. The alphabetical A-Z view has a very handy search feature which can be found when you scroll to the very top of the list. With the search bar you can search by item name, barcode, and tag. If you have been using the tag ‘beans’, that search term will show you all the items with ‘beans’ in the title as wells as the tag. The expiration view will list all of your items by, well, expiration. Starting with the items that have expired at the very top of the list, soon to expire next, and non-expiring at the very end.
If you have multiple locations you are tracking, the Location view will allow you to view items by location. Location is also one of the ways you can categorized your inventory. I currently have five locations I use: pantry, BOB, BOB-food, BOB-first aid, cache 1. Sure, I could use tagging to assign sub-categories to my BOB’s inventory, but I like the ease of using a location to organize the categories. One tap and I can see all the food items in my bug out bag.
In any of the list views, tapping on one of the list items will give you the details for that item. All the quantities by expiration and location. From here the item details can be edited, additional quantities can be put into inventory, and the item can be added to your Shopping Cart list.
When an item is used it is removed from inventory and added to the Shopping Cart. This provides you a convenient list of items that need to be replenished and just like the other list views, the Shopping Cart can be sorted in a number of ways. The Shopping Cart list can also be emailed to someone else from here.
There are a few features I have not addressed with this article, such as database backup and restore. Information about the other features of Prep & Pantry can be found on the app’s website, PrepAndPanty.com, or on iTunes.
I do want to mention that there are a number of exciting features in the pipeline including:
· Additional options for refining the list views and the shopping cart list.
· Reporting options. Export the database to excel and email-able inventory reports suitable for printing.
· Integrated coupon tracking.
· Purchase date and price tracking.
· History and statistics reporting.
· iCloud integration.
I know that OPSEC is very important for myself and my fellow preppers. For some, there may be concerns with having your preps neatly organized on a smart phone, especially with the current reports of questionable privacy with Google and Apple.
I have pondered this and I approach this topic without being über paranoid (Meaning: not believing that Big Brother can look directly into my device and peruse the files at will.)
Prep & Pantry’s app data is more secure than the phone calls (or forum posts!) you make. As long as you are not using the automatic UPC lookup feature, no data is transmitted (over any network) by the app at any time. Even when using the optional online UPC lookup, only the barcode number is sent by Prep & Pantry to the online database and the product name is returned. Online UPC look-up is disabled by default making it your choice whether to use that feature or not.
Frank and full disclosure: the data on the device is not encrypted, the database system I use does not support it and I’m not willing to jump through the hoops to make it happen. Also, with software encryption, there would be export laws I would have to deal with and I just don’t want to. So simply enough, I chose the easiest and most secure method, keep the data off of the air and the device in my pocket. (Btw, iPhones do have built-in data encryption when you use the password lock.)
In the extreme view, the iPod touch users will be the most secure. They’re not on an open network and all the data is contained on the device. The only security issue would be if the device gets into “the wrong hands”.
My hope is that you will find Prep & Pantry to be as I intended; quick and easy to use, multi-purpose, user friendly, and time saving. As always, I am open to constructive feedback, new ideas, and feature suggestions.
Prep & Pantry is optimized to work on the iPhone 4 and 3GS, the iPad 2, and the iPod touch 4th gen. If you have one of the earlier generations of the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, the app still works great, you will just not be able to use the barcode scanning feature.
Please visit PrepAndPantry.com. Here you will find more information about Prep & Pantry, answers to common support questions, and direct links to iTunes to purchase a copy.
Thank you and best regards,
Creator of Prep & Pantry for iPhone.