With Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, one thing is on everybody’s mind: food. From homemade recipes, to family meals and gatherings, it’s the time of year when food is the centerpiece of many social events. But today, the food industry is facing many challenges – fraud, contaminations, and complex supply chains. But blockchain technology can help.
One thing many don’t realize is how common foodborne illnesses are. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 10 people fall ill due to foodborne diseases each year. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 48 million people get sick and 128,000 are hospitalized from foodborne diseases each year. Additionally, participants in today’s food supply chain operate in silos. No single end-to-end view of food delivery exists, making it difficult to manage safety issues within the supply chain when contaminations like E.coli emerge, causing costly delays and impacting public health.
Companies have found new ways to apply technology to add traceability to the food supply chain, combat foodborne illness, reduce food waste, and solve other challenges with the global food supply chain. How are they doing it, and what’s next for the future of technology and the food industry?
Blockchain technology provides solutions for a variety of issues plaguing the global food supply, and the supply chain. A blockchain network can permanently store data through a growing list of records, called blocks, that are linked using written codes (cryptography), where each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data that cannot be altered. By design, blockchain is resistant to modification of the data, creating a permanent and detailed link of information, which means that suppliers can leverage the blockchain to create a record of transactions that instantly proves where food came from and how it was handled. The technology could serve as an alternative to traditional paper tracking and manual inspection systems, which can leave supply chains vulnerable to inaccuracies.
IBM launched Food Trust in August 2017 exploring the use of blockchain in food traceability and building out modules that specifically address a number of these issues. Food Trust connects the diverse food ecosystem, enabling increased efficiency, automated supply chain visibility, and strengthened consumer relationships from farm to store.
In New England, for example, local scallopers have begun uploading information about their catch into Food Trust, to promote food traceability, safety, and sustainability. Leafy green suppliers for Walmart are now required to include data about their produce on Food Trust, and in Europe, Carrefour customers and consumers are using an app to show them exactly where foods such as organic poultry or processed mashed potatoes come from, based on the Food Trust. By digitizing the supply chain and creating an immutable record of each catch or supply, we hope to solve a number of industry problems such as a lack of transparency in the supply chain, and potential food fraud.