Blockchain is about to be a bastion in food safety, at least in Walmart and its subsidiary, Sam’s Club. With large outbreaks of E.coli and Salmonella in 2018, retail giants Walmart and Sam’s Club are asking suppliers of leafy greens to trace their produce via blockchain technology.
Blockchain To Create Farm-To-Table Transparency
Walmart is requesting that the suppliers of the greens trace their products all the way back to their preliminary stages, such as their shipment to and duration in their farms. This is due to the discovery of E.coli in romaine lettuce and Salmonella in various products such as breakfast cereal and eggs.
The suppliers are expected to have the blockchain systems in place and keeping track of these products by the fall of next year. Given that blockchain enables a secure technology for data sharing, the information that the suppliers collect will be accessible in real time, with a traceable path from farm to table.
Unlike paper-based ledgers, which may take up to 7 days to track where a product had come from, according to Frank Yiannas, the VP of Food Safety at Walmart, blockchain tracking only takes a few seconds.
The lengthy time consumption that comes from paper ledger tracking is due to the process required to retrieve the tracking information. The team at Walmart must contact the supplier, procure paper records and use those records to contact the company that shipped or imported the produce to a Walmart distribution center.
Walmart plans to roll back this process through the use of blockchain, which would quicken the identifying, researching and reacting to food safety issues. The long-term goal is to bring the benefits of open and transparent information to the food industry.
Charles Redfield, the Executive Vice President of Food for Walmart US declared that the newly adopted blockchain system for tracking will pave the way for food safety at Walmart.
The Executive Vice President said:
“Customers trust us to help them put quality food on their tables for themselves and their families. We have to go further than offering great food at an everyday low price. Our customers need to know they can trust us to help ensure that food is safe. These new requirements will help us do just that.”
Preventing Another E.Coli Outbreak
This year, swaths of customers and grocers had to discard their romaine lettuce due to a discovered contamination of E.coli. Health officials from the Centers for Disease Control warned Americans to avoid eating lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona.
“But it was difficult for consumers to know how to determine where their lettuce was grown,” said Frank Yiannas, the VP of Food Safety at Walmart.
“None of the bags of salad had ‘Yuma, Arizona’ on them,” the VP of Food Safety continued. “In the future, using the technology we’re requiring, a customer could potentially scan a bag of salad and know with certainty where it came from.”
The critical need to quickly and accurately respond to food safety issues like these puts paper ledgers at a disadvantage. With the implementation of blockchain, farms, packing houses and warehouses can have their information much more speedily tracked.
There are approximately 70,000 food items in a typical grocery store, which poses a major trackability challenge. No single entity can track such a large inventory, much less in a fast and transparent way, but blockchain can solve this issue.
Walmart has been working with IBM to digitize their produce, so that the information is captured on the farm with a handheld system.
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