In Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Michael Palin said, “All I ask of food is that it doesn’t harm me.” It seems like an easy request to fulfill, but that isn’t always the case. While food is one of the most basic requirements of human survival, contaminated foods cause sickness — or even worse.
What if a way existed to better ensure the safety of the foods we buy and eat? An innovative technology called blockchain could provide the necessary means.
Why should you care about food safety?
Foodborne illness is a common and costly public health problem. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 10 people fall ill due to foodborne diseases each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 48 million get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases in America alone.
The sad fact underlying these statistics is that most foodborne illnesses are preventable. If a single consumer becomes ill and reports it, the offending product can be recalled – that is how it works, at least in theory. With today’s systems, it can take days to identify a contaminated product, then to identify its origin shipment and finally to identify its source vendor. In that time, many more consumers become sick. It is not the lack of information; it is the lack of access.
How does blockchain advance food safety?
In today’s food system, participants of the supply chain operate in silos. No single end-to-end view of food delivery exists making it problematic to identify the origin of safety-issues from within the supply chain. Obtaining relevant health certificates takes days, if not weeks. When there is a problem anywhere along the supply chain, the entire system shuts down to protect consumers, and in doing so, huge amounts of money are lost.
Keeping food safe requires commitment from those involved. Since October 2016, IBM and Walmart are collaborating to demonstrate how a digitized food system can benefit everyone. Blockchain has the ability to transform the way enterprises use data and for the first time provide end-to-end traceability, full transparency and further supply chain efficiencies.
Blockchain is built on a distributed ledger technology which provides a shared, digital view of transaction data made available to all permissioned participants in the network. Transactions are recorded on the ledger after consensus among participants, and these transactions cannot be removed or changed which creates a trusted system of record. These inherent features of blockchain help build trust which results in better food safety.
The blockchain database can also hold more data than what retailers usually have access to. From a single receipt, Walmart can obtain vital data, including information on the supplier, details on how and where a food was produced and who inspected it. A recall could then be issued much faster as opposed to days, and that would reduce the number of people affected.
Having access to such specific information would also make it possible to strategically remove contaminated packages instead of pulling every package from hundreds of stores. In addition to decreasing costs, this has the added benefit of protecting brand reputation while increasing consumer trust and confidence in participating parties.
Where can you learn more?
Register now to join IBM and representatives from the 400+ CGF member organizations at the CGF Global Summit from June 20 – 23. This industry-leading event is a great opportunity to learn more about technologies such as blockchain that are disrupting the retail space. You’ll also be able to connect with the thought leaders who are promoting sustainability, product safety, health and wellness, and end-to-end value chain standards by sharing knowledge and best practices. I look forward to seeing you there!
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