The food industry holds a lot of responsibility when it comes to sourcing, sustaining and supplying products to consumers. Mistakes in farming or production mean that the public can be subjected to any number of outbreaks. Just over 10 years ago, China saw the extent of this after 300,000 infants were affected both physically and mentally as a result of milk and infant milk contamination with melamine, a cyanamide derivative.
In most cases, how quickly these outbreaks are resolved depends on the speed in which the original batches can be tracked down. Using traditional methods, this can take days or even weeks to find. To combat this issue, the food industry has now turned to new technology to track the food journey from farm to market more efficiently.
Blockchain-Based Global Ecosystems
Of the 850 blockchain projects assessed in the 2019 Gartner Survey, projects which gained the most traction involved product origins or the use of blockchain for supply chain tracking. IBM’s partnerships with several different companies focus on the same aim: to use a decentralized blockchain ecosystem to track food products across the globe, particularly for issues of a food recall.
In particular, Walmart’s Hyperledger fabric-powered blockchain system is currently being used to track their lettuce supply chain, tracing the product to the grower in 2.2 seconds. The organization has since announced plans to extend this requirement to all of its vegetable suppliers.
Karl Bedwell, Senior Director at Walmart Technology, stated this on the subject: “Creating a [traceability] system for the entire ecosystem has been a challenge for years, and no one had figured it out. We thought that blockchain technology might be a good fit for this problem, because of its focus on trust, immutability, and transparency.”
The ultimate goal of blockchain use, despite the different systems used, remains the same: to adopt large-scale use. And with the technology available today such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, tracking software and RFID tags, it is now easier than ever to implement blockchain into these industries.
Real-Time Data Capture
For companies with perishable products, e.g. seafood, logistic transparency is a major point of appeal for blockchain adoption. The recent partnership between IBM and Raw Seafoods Inc. allows shipments of scallops to be traced from the point of capture to the market. By working directly with the scallop boats, information can be sent before the boat reaches the shore via a satellite link.
QR codes can also be used to capture information along the food journey and allow companies to gain a real-world concept of their product along the production line. Employees can be trained to tag the product and use the QR codes to note changes in the packing status by taking into account the specific batches or cartons for each shipment.
Beyond Food Safety
The power of blockchain in the food industry goes beyond food safety with its implementation providing additional benefits to these companies. QR codes can also be included in the final product, involving the customer in the food journey and allowing them to gain further understanding of exactly where their food is coming from. Hybrid blockchain systems have proved useful in such cases by holding the B2B information with permission and the consumer-facing information as open. One system is, therefore, able to satisfy all aspects of supply chain transparency.
The information stored on the blockchain system also allows companies to tackle customer complaints, quality management, and retail strategy quickly and effectively.
Food for Thought
According to IBM Food Trust’s general manager Rajendra Rao, blockchain helps to keep track of the consumer’s three major concerns, “safety, sustainability, and authenticity.” By efficiently storing details of the food journey through the use of blockchain, organizations can not only work on instilling a level of trust back into the business-consumer relationship but also monitor the quality of their work processes and products.