The importance of food safety cannot be underemphasized. Identifying and understanding how human behavior contributes to the overall safety of food could help tackle issues related to foodborne illnesses. The latest outbreak of E.coli Salmonella in Yuma, Arizona, has got experts reevaluating the current food tracking system in use. The E.coli bacterium spreads via the ingestion of contaminated food such as eggs, raw meat, and vegetables and was found in a variety of consumer snacks including Swiss rolls and eggs.
The outbreak affected over 200 people while five others succumbed to the disease. This was a wake-up call as the public was once again reminded of the significance of prioritizing food safety. The outbreak was able to spread so quickly because safety officials were using archaic paper-based methods to track the contamination source.
Walmart Blockchain Food Tracking System
Having a food tracking system that can quickly identify the source of contamination is undoubtedly invaluable. A blockchain tracking system would’ve been more efficient in handling this problem. Retail giant, Walmart is aware of the merits that blockchain technology offers in the areas of tracking and transparency and has been working with IBM to build a blockchain database for this specific purpose.
Speaking on the issue, Vice President Food Safety Walmart, Frank Yiannas had this to say:
“The food system is absolutely too large for any single entity to [track], but blockchain changes everything. We’ve been working with IBM to digitize that, so the information is captured on the farm with a handheld system. It’s [also]captured at the packing house at the supplier.”
Walmart and Sam’s Club are proposing a blockchain based solution to the problem of food safety. They recently sent out a letter to suppliers of fresh, leafy greens asking them to revamp their tracking capabilities by using blockchain technology to trace their products right back to the farm where they were produced. With this mandate in place, suppliers are expected to have fully functioning tracking capabilities by the end of the year.
Farm-to-table tracking is now possible thanks to blockchain technology which offers real-time and end-to-end traceability. Since the blockchain naturally allows for trustless and secure data sharing, it is expected that the implementation of Walmart’s requirements will facilitate data openness and accessibility to information collected by suppliers.
Before Q4 2019, more than 100 Walmart leafy green vegetable suppliers will be mandated to input comprehensive food data into Walmart blockchain database. With this new system, tracking food back to its source will only take a few seconds unlike the traditional methods that could take days or even weeks.
Why is Tracking Food Important?
This is not Walmart’s first attempt to pilot blockchain technology. The company has been testing the potential of blockchain technology in its supply chain since 2017. The merits of this kind of system are highly advantageous for food supply chain management and food safety. The public sector will also be a benefactor of food traceability initiatives since the distributed ledger technology will offer both safety teams and consumers the ability to react quickly to an outbreak, thus saving lives.
The Centers for Disease Control also supports the development of blockchain-based food tracking systems. According to Robert Tauxe, MD, Director of CDC’s division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases:
“Enhanced ability to trace a contaminated food back to its source will help government agencies and companies to identify the source of a foodborne disease outbreak, coordinate more effective recalls of foods thought to be contaminated, and learn where past problems began. We think these steps will strengthen future prevention efforts and better protect the public’s health from the threat of foodborne illness.”
Blockchain has seen a lot of recent development and applications in the area of supply chain management; however, critics of the technology have stated that automated blockchain systems alone may not be sufficient to check fraud since they only trace food products and cannot tell if someone has tampered with its contents.