Food safety is increasingly becoming a public concern especially in the wake of Entamoeba coli outbreak in romaine lettuce. The American multinational retail giant, Walmart, working together with IBM has put together a blockchain-enabled traceability solution. This will enable the tracking down of the leafy greens they stock, back to the farm.
In an open letter to their suppliers dated September 24, 2018, Walmart reiterated their resolve to ensure the food they sell to their customers is safe and affordable. They further stated that food safety is a shared responsibility that can only be discharged in collaboration with suppliers.
The blockchain enabled supply management project is known as Walmart Food Traceability Initiative. The aim of this development is to enhance transparency in the food supply and handling system so that the entire continuum from the leafy green farms to the table can create shared value.
The Challenge in Farm to Table Traceability
The blockchain technology will ensure the information suppliers gather is open and accessible in real time.
Currently, when you buy contaminated greens, you may not know exactly where the contamination happened in the supply chain. For instance, many customers and grocers were forced to dispose of their romaine lettuce following a warning by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officials that it was contaminated at the farm in Yuma, Arizona.
According to statistics from the Food and Drug Administration and CDC, 210 people spread over 36 states in the US were infected by E. coli after consuming contaminated romaine lettuce. Those affected by Salmonella bacteria traced their infection to breakfast cereals, eggs, precut melons, and raw turkey.
The greatest hindrance in all the cases was the difficulty in tracing the greens back to the farm. None of the grocery bags displayed or had inferences to Yuma, Arizona on them.
The paper-based ledgers currently being used take up to seven days or more to track down the source of a product. This inefficiency further complicates the traceability.
Blockchain Technology – A More Secure and Transparent Traceability Mechanism
Walmart in conjunction with IBM have been working to digitize the food system so that right from the farm, information is captured all the way to the supplier and finally the consumer. The power of blockchain, a record keeping system open to all users, is the ultimate gamechanger.
The advantage with this technology is that once information gets entered into the chain system, other computers and users get notified. This makes it impossible to falsify information and for changes to be made, all parties must consent.
The overall result of this is enhanced transparency, improved information accessibility, accuracy, and trust. These are important pillars of public health and livelihoods.
Under the Walmart Food Traceability Initiative, the retail giant expects to trace products back to the farm in a matter of seconds. However, to achieve this, suppliers will be enrolled on the IBM Food Trust Network where they will capture digital traceability event information.
Walmart has programmed the compliance for suppliers in tow phases:
• Direct Suppliers – This category of suppliers is required to comply with the one-step-back traceability by January 31, 2019.
• End-to-End Traceability – The suppliers are required to work within their vertical network to enable this traceability by September 30, 2019.
To enable businesses, meet this new requirement, Walmart has created a low-cost user-friendly blockchain traceability solution that all can fit in with ease.