Food supply chain

One nation’s move to increase food safety with blockchain

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Blockchain is contributing to many promising advances in the areas of food safety and authenticity. While there might not yet be wide-scale examples of the benefits to consumers, we can find validation for such projects and inspiration by studying Dubai in the United Arabic Emirates.

Why Dubai?

Dubai is full of people who look to the future. You can see it in their stunning sky scrapers, malls and highways throughout the city. You can also see it in their determination to explore ways to use blockchain and big data to protect their food. According to municipality statistics, Dubai imports about $200 billion of food annually from nearly 200 countries. Last month, government leaders there took a step to digitize food data to ensure better food safety and to help consumers with their nutritional needs and preferences.

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Digital food

During the opening ceremonies for the 11th Dubai International Food Safety Conference in 2017, Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director General of Dubai Municipality, launched “Food Watch,” a digital platform that aims to completely digitize the food safety and nutritional information of all edible items served through the 20,000 or more food establishments in the emirate.

According to leaders at the conference, the initial phase of data compiling focuses on food establishments handling high-risk foods. Eventually, all other food establishments will be required to update the platform with information about their food items, including health and nutritional claims, details about their premises and food handlers, and even certifications. These pieces of data will give inspectors and consumers unprecedented access to critical information.

Food on blockchain

More important than the information being gathered about food is how having that data can facilitate action. Future phases of Dubai’s new food monitoring system will focus on incorporating blockchain and Internet of Things to quickly and accurately track food products from farm to fork and everywhere in between. Making this data easily accessible can enhance the ability of officials and consumers to take action before and after a health violation or food poisoning incident takes place.

The Dubai conference’s theme of “Predict, Prevent, Protect” hints at the Municipality’s larger goals to predict foodborne issues, prevent illnesses and protect consumers proactively through blockchain and big data. The stated goal is for the system to be in place before Dubai hosts the World Expo in 2020. Since it is one of the first large-scale projects of this nature, I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together. Dubai’s successes and pitfalls will help to provide a blueprint for other blockchain implementations around food safety.

From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders and academic experts to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Unleashed blog. The opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM.

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Assistant Dean of Graduate Academic and Faculty Affairs, College of Professional Studies - Northeastern University

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