“Many countries have food safety systems from farm to table. Everybody involved in the food supply is required to follow standard food safety procedures. You would think that everyone involved with food would not want people to get sick from it.”—Marion Nestle
We go to the grocery store every day and we most likely don’t think much about getting bad food. I’ve been to a number of developing nations, and I’ve got to say, that hasn’t always been the case. Oh sure, we there are periodic outbreaks of e-coli in our food supply, or salmonella that shows up in fruits and vegetables. It most likely does more harm to the farmers in lost produce. Stores are quick to remove the inventory, and news reports are quick to report on the outbreaks.
However, while addressing outbreaks is fairly responsive, there are still significant issues with foodborne illnesses. The FDA reports that nearly “48 million people in the U.S. (1 in 6) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.” Clearly—this is a significant public health burden; one that is largely preventable.
The FDA, reports that the Food Safety Modernization Act will transform the food safety system in the U.S. by “shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illness to preventing it.” Moreover, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of the World Health Organization say that “food should be a source of nourishment and enjoyment, not a cause of disease or death.”
Protecting Food Supply: A Global Concern
“Governments on the global and national level need to implement measures to protect against food contamination, and respond quickly to food-related outbreaks. Consumers should make sure they practice properly food handing and cooking hygiene.” (WHO).
José Graziano da Silva may have best captured the need to ensure food safety as he addressed the First International Food Safety Conference: “There is no food security without food safety … Safeguarding our food is a shared responsibility. We must all play our part. We must work together to scale up food safety in national and international political agendas.” (WHO)
Blockchain Offers Significant Solutions
Blockchain technology employs a shared, distributed ledger of transactions over a decentralized network. This is particularly important for the food supply industry—it creates a mechanism to track the source of food supply from the farm to the supermarket. It can’t be overstated that finding the location of all heads of lettuce or bushels of tomatoes—once their source has been identified as being contaminated—is of paramount importance.
Evangelia Vogiatzaki reported a Walmart case study in PreScouter. Walmart, known as the “owner of one of the best food traceability systems in the industry,” conducted case study to determine how fast Walmart could trace food from the source to the market. Using traditional tracing methods, it took over six days to trace a package of mangoes to the exact farm of its origin.
When using blockchain—it took just 2.2 seconds! Clearly—blockchain shows terrific promise in the food supply chain industry.
How the blockchain solution works:
Blockchain technology offers the promise to quickly trace food from its source to the market, thus saving countless consumers from getting exposed and ill. The issue is speed to data. Evangelia Vogiatzaki quotes Merve Unuvar from IBM: “The main problem is not the lack of information; it is the lack of access.”
“The main problem is not the lack of information; it is the lack of access.”—Merve Unuvar
Blockchain technology is built on distributed ledger technology which provides a shared, immutable, transparent digital view of transaction data. Blockchain’s main innovation is that it keeps all data in a sequence of “blocks”, that is “ledger” copies. These are widely and evenly distributed over a network of computer nodes. (Global Food Safety Resource) [link: https://globalfoodsafetyresource.com/block-chain-technology-set-to-revolutionize-food-safety/ ]
Tomaž Levak, et. al., in Global Food Safety Resource, reminds us of the benefits of blockchain. Digital “fingerprints” become a permanent part of a blockchain record and are permanently stored. This ensures the integrity of the entire supply chain information. Moreover, because blockchain is distributed and doesn’t rely on a centralized database, it is nearly impossible for anyone to modify or remove any data from the blockchain. The chain is immutable. (Levak)
It's been an incredible journey for @origin_trail team since being accepted in the 1st round of @Walmart Food Safety Innovation Pipeline. See what advice @DrevZiga has for the teams following our footsteps #ThinkBig https://t.co/9JsiTj4IVl
— OriginTrail (@origin_trail) July 9, 2019
The IBM Blockchain Solution Partnership
Today, companies using blockchain include Dole, Walmart, Kroger, Nestle, Tyson Foods, among others. IBM has been at the heart of the blockchain solution—involving blockchain collaboration developed in partnership with IBM.
“A blockchain food safety program is tremendously good because it provides transparency into the food system, which means that in the event that there is a problem like a recall, you’re able to quickly, effectively, surgically deal with that problem,” says IBM’s vice-president of blockchain business development, Brigid McDermott. (PreScouter)
IBM’s blockchain solution is built on distributed ledger technology. This provides a shared digital view of the data available to those who have permission to access it on the network.
All product data is digitally connected to food items and recorded—from every step in the supply side to its final distribution point at the market. Food items can be transparently traced back to the point of origin. They can be traced even as they go from one company to the next, in transit to market. Food data includes “information on the supplier, details on how and where a food was produced and who inspected it,” writes Vogiatzaki. The tracing of data in the supply chain tracks critical points that can reveal food safety issues of any product.
Consumers deserve the right to expect excellent quality of food—regardless of the country. Food safety isn’t just an America issue to be regulated by the FDA, it is a global issue that involves the World Health Organization.
As the Walmart case study demonstrated, the traditional method of tracing a product is antiquated and needs to be replaced. Technology is available today, and blockchain offers the promise to trace food supply at every step in the process in a way that creates a trusted system of data integrity.
Levak, Tomaž ; Drev, Žiga ; and Rakić, Branimir; “Blockchain Technology Set To Revolutionize Food Safety In Supply Chains “, Global Food Safety Resource, July 2019.
U.S. FDA, “Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)”, https://www.fda.gov/food/guidance-regulation-food-and-dietary-supplements/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma, July 2019
Vogiatzaki, Evangelia, “How can blockchain be used in the food industry?”, www.prescouter.com, September 2017.
WHO, “International push to improve food safety”, https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/12-02-2019-international-push-to-improve-food-safety, December 2019.