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Walmart and IBM Team Up for Food Safety

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By: Pooja Sharma

Walmart and IBM have come up with “blockchain technology” to track its supply chain and trace its food supply network. This is done in order to ensure how the food flows from the farm and reaches to consumer’s knives. Any unknown goods can be identified. Not to forget the tremendous impact it will have on leading up to the source of any outbreak that results. The most recent recall linked to Walmart was in May when 5000 pounds of meat was recalled due to E. coli scare.

Having fully fledged traceability systems already in place, the food products that are the source of infection can be recalled, protecting the consumers and minimizing the spread of the infection. Apart from focusing on food safety, this blockchain technology can also help speed up the process of food products reaching the consumer sooner. So, the consumers will be able to benefit from fresher produce.

The company has entered into a 12-month project with IBM. They have already had several meetings discussing various parameters that would be needed at different points in the food system. This will help develop an appropriate interface and swift programming for the whole supply chain. Walmart’s and IBM’s program is now termed as one of the largest practical uses of blockchain technology beyond Bitcoin to date. They have already worked on a testing pilot run on the transportation of mangoes and pork. The results of the pilot have proven that blockchain technology can easily accelerate the process of tracing the food source from the time span of days and weeks to a span of seconds. This could be really helpful in the crisis such as Salmonella or E. coli outbreaks. Tracking has proved out to be beneficial for farmers to the consumers, so the goal of achieving the food transparency is quite close.

What exactly is Blockchain Technology?

A blockchain is basically a decentralized ledger. A ledger, almost as same as what banks use to keep a track their accounts. But, instead of keeping all the records and transactions in the same place, the blockchain technology’s ledger distributes it to all its participants. These participants are bound by a certain set of rules and restrictions. All the users must abide by these set of guidelines to enter the data into the universal ledger.

Each transaction is a ‘block’ and at each block, an user enters the information. This piece of information is then passed to the next point of the network. Each previous data gets chained to the subsequent one and therefore, preventing it from getting changed at a subsequent point. Thus, blockchain technology provides a neutral open platform. It doesn’t require any third party to make sure that the information is correct. The ledger is immediately updated and all parties have access to the latest information.

The system of blockchain technology is thus, beneficial to large and complex supply chains where violation and non-obedience are easy and trust is low. Since there are so many copies of the same data, independent checking at each block assures the system is foolproof and low in fraudulence. Everyone in the chain knows about the blocks, so it’s very difficult to modify anything.

How is blockchain technology a huge step forward for food safety?

For consumers, the blockchain technology offers them the transparency in the system they have always wanted. They know that the retailer is offering them exactly what the label says and the food is not tampered with in any way. Consumer satisfaction in the form of high-quality food that they demand is achieved. An increase in consumer awareness has led to people making sure that the food they purchase meets the quality and excellence they desire for. Blockchain technology will successfully diminish this gap and make people trust the system even more.

For retailers, if they can identify and spot any food products on the shelves that have the potential to harm the consumers, they can easily take those products down. By identifying the source, the contaminated and hazardous products can be recalled instead of recalling a vast amount of products that can be very costly for the retailers. It’s also beneficial for the consumers as they don’t have to worry about contaminated products lying around on the shelves of the supermarket.

For food suppliers or farmers, blockchain technology can easily identify if the food product is being tampered with any point in the supply chain can easily be located and notified to the retailer. This would again mean that any product that can cause harm to consumers will be taken down without causing any outbreaks and any hefty and delayed recalls.

Thus, blockchain technology can speed up the process of both supply chain transparency and safety management. When all the information from the raw material to the processing is stored, it will be very easy to build the clarity in the farm-to-fork supply chain.

British startup called Provenance has also used blockchain technology to test Tuna caught in Indonesia. They used it to ratify the claims that the fish was caught properly and responsibly. Thus, consumers can easily verify the ‘wild-caught’ claims made by many companies. Other advantages would be to verify any artificial ingredients or genetically modified products present in the food. This will demand more desirable practices on the part of all the people involved in the process of farm to fork.

The WHO estimates that at least 1 in 10 people in the US fall ill each year as a result of food contamination. And with global food supply becoming more and more intertwined, it is becoming extremely demanding for producers and retailers to back their product quality. If a product gets manufactured in Australia and then processed in Africa before hitting the stores in the UK, it’s quite difficult to make sure whether or not, the product has gone over the food safety standards required by every country. The Blockchain, however, is seen as a ray of hope to maintain the ability for the retailer and the producer to keep a check on the quality and therefore, assure the same to the consumers.

Sources:

  1. http://www.nacsonline.com/Media/Daily/Pages/ND0228171.aspx#.WYLNBNOGPVo
  2. http://www.computerworlduk.com/iot/walmart-picks-ibm-bring-traceability-food-with-blockchain-3654841/
  3. https://www.devex.com/news/new-initiative-aims-to-deliver-on-the-promise-of-blockchain-for-identity-90620
  4. https://www.coindesk.com/information/what-is-blockchain-technology/

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