Blockchain Can Help You Know More About the Food You’re Eating
By Billy Clabby, Clabby Analytics
Yes, you read that correctly. Blockchain, with the help of new emerging technologies, enables visibility into where your food comes from. Meaning that consumers will better understand what they’re putting on their tables and in their mouths.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that allows the transfer of both money and data transparently, while remaining auditable, safe, and resistant to outages and hackers. Organizations that use blockchain have more visibility into transactions while making those transactions more efficient and secure. Whether purchasing food from a grocery store or from a restaurant, Blockchain’s transactional ledger can track your food from farm to table. Traceability allows anyone involved in the supply chain a higher level of visibility, including customers themselves.
Wilton Thornburg, of Coin Central describes blockchain as a perfect candidate for improving food safety. “Food safety remains essential to everyone, and blockchain alleviates some of the dangers to the food safety supply chain. Diseased, contaminated, or spoiled food kills. Food goes bad with improper handling, preparation, or storage. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins enter food that is poorly managed.” With blockchain, the source of an outbreak can be tracked and located more quickly than with that of current systems.
Food Safety Risks
Business Insider recently posted an article People are still terrified to eat at Chipotle — and it’s the chain’s biggest problem. Two and half years after 55 people were infected by an E. coli breakout at Chipotle, people are still apprehensive about eating at the restaurant chain. “Food safety concerns top the list of reasons that customers said they’re eating Chipotle less frequently, according to a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,500 people. In the report, released on July 9th 2018, 26% of respondents cited a concern about food safety as the main reason they were eating at the chain less often.” Put simply, the company’s reputation tanked because in today’s health conscious day and age, any lapse in food safety is unacceptable.
Whether it is Chipotle or other companies who have found themselves in similar predicaments (think of the recent romaine lettuce contamination), blockchain can help find out exactly where and what went wrong. This level of traceability allows faster recalls, better communication, and overall protection of your company’s brand. Instead of struggling to find the root of the problem as your business scrambles to control the PR and social media nightmare, visibility into each step of your food supply chain enables speedy identification of the problem’s source, protecting your company’s long-term reputation. Because businesses such as Chipotle have spent millions of dollars to recover from a food safety issues, many in the food business have begun to adopt strategies based on the Hyperledger Fabric and companies, such as Sawtooth Lake.
Blockchain Use Cases-Food Safety:
A recent Hyperledger Sawtooth Lake video helped me understand how blockchain could change the fishing industry. In this case, by using IOT sensors Hyperledger Sawtooth Lake allows companies the ability to track fish from their origin all the way to customers’ plates. As a result, there is no way the fish can be tampered with (i.e. replaced with older fish, different species or mishandled). Bad seafood can have severe effects on those who eat it, including death. IBM’s Blockchain Unleashed blog recently posted an article entitled, “This summer, fishing in Finland means food traceability on the menu.” S-Group, a Finnish retail co-op, is testing their Pike-Perch radar, which is based on IBM’s Blockchain technology. “Customers in Finland can trace a filet of pike or perch freshwater fish back to its home waters using the QR Code on the package of “Kotimaista-kuhafile” fish, or by logging in to a tracking website.”
Now customers can take comfort in the fact that their food is safe, and in this case can guarantee it is local, too. S-Group has been working for quite some time to create more visibility into supply chains in Finland, and this is the next step of the puzzle. According to Senja Forsman, Senior Compliance Manager of S-Group retail, “the Pike-Perch radar is a pioneer in promoting transparency. The application provides information about different fishing sites and, in the future, the customer will also be able to find out which fisherman caught the fish.” IBM calls S-Group a “forerunner,” for using blockchain in the industry, and it will be interesting to see if and how the industry changes as a result.
According to Coin Central, “Carrefour uses blockchain to trace free-range chickens in central France. By the end of 2018, Carrefour will expand the use of blockchain to include such products as honey, eggs, cheese, milk, oranges, tomatoes, fish, and meat.” Currently, similar to that of S-Group described above, Carrefour uses a blockchain-based application, which relies on QR codes on product packaging. By scanning the QR code with a smartphone, shoppers can figure out virtually anything about what has happened to a chicken before purchase.
“The blockchain returns information to you on where the chicken was raised, the name of the farmer, what the chicken was fed, any antibiotics or medications the chicken was treated with, and where the meat was processed.” All and all, Carrefour is giving its customers more background on the foods they eat, inspiring trust and confidence, with blockchain technology providing a new level of transparency not available previously.
Food Trust blockchain
IBM has partnered with ten companies to implement blockchain for tracking food globally through their supply chains. The Food Trust blockchain consortium includes Nestlé SA, Dole Food Co., Driscoll’s Inc., Golden State Foods, Kroger Co., McCormick and Co., McLane Co., Tyson Foods Inc, Unilever NV, and last, but not least, Wal-Mart. According to IBM’s website, “IBM Food Trust is a collaborative network of growers, processors, wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers, retailers and others enhancing visibility and accountability in each step of the food supply. Powered by the IBM Blockchain Platform, IBM Food Trust directly connects participants through a permissioned, permanent and shared record of food origin details, processing data, shipping details and more.”
Frank Yiannis, Vice President of Food Safety at Wal-Mart explains how food products can be tracked using the IBM Food Trust. “An unspoken expectation of our customers is they expect our food to be safe,” “Food systems are usually recorded on paper or systems that don’t speak to each other, what we hope to do with blockchain is bring all food safety system stakeholders together and collaborate.” With these companies all working with the same solution and framework to improve overall supply chain food safety, customers can be confident that their food is safe.
Companies big and small know that in the future customers will demand more visibility into where their food is coming from. The bar is being set higher with customer demands for organic foods and “free-range” products. Customers are more discerning and have more choices. To avoid food being contaminated by unhealthy processes, including pesticides and chemical fertilizers, people shop organic. Even organic is a loose term considering supply chains are messy. According to CNBC, beginning in 2015, “the USDA is creating a new database for growers, and the organic standards board plans to remove some synthetic pesticides and herbicides still considered acceptable for organic growers to use.” Today, three years later, in the USA we are hearing about more contaminated food outbreaks. These outbreaks however don’t mean that there are more outbreaks occurring but that the ability to detect them is higher due to new technologies. According to the
Blockchain allows an immutable record of every stakeholder’s interaction with the product. Whether that be the temperature the food was shipped at, the chemicals used during farming, or the time of delivery, the consumer is finally in the know and can hold businesses accountable for errors, including poor supply chains, trying to sell outdated food, and putting customers’ health in jeopardy.
So all those scared of fast food chains or restaurants and where their ingredients are coming from, you might be in luck. In the near-term, you may actually have insight into these companies’ supply chains. Just as you have food safety ratings for restaurants today, there may be food safety supply chain ratings tomorrow. This way, consumers can better calculate the risks and rewards associated with eating food from a farmer’s market, grocery store, fast-food chain, or 5-star restaurant.