Since 2018, the CDC has recorded five E. Coli outbreaks related to leafy green vegetables. The agency estimates that foodborne diseases account for about 48 million illnesses each year, with leafy green vegetables as the leading cause.
Recalls caused by E. Coli outbreaks and other food safety issues are disruptive and expensive to the food supply chain. Grocers must remove contaminated produce from shelves, but often lack the data to know which shipments are safe and which are tainted. At the same time, warehouses and distributors must halt deliveries and communicate with their suppliers to try to trace the source of the outbreak. Everyone loses revenue from the produce they can’t sell, while consumer trust erodes.
On this year’s World Food Safety Day, we want to focus on one key concept that makes it easier for consumers to enjoy a fresh salad with peace of mind: transparency. It’s a guiding principle for both IBM Food Trust and BrightFarms, which have worked to help restore trust in the food supply chain.
BrightFarms was founded in 2011 with a mission to simplify the supply chain for leafy greens. Hydroponic greenhouses located across the MidAtlantic and Midwest supply local grocers with fresh produce, often reaching shelves less than 24 hours after being picked. This hyperlocal model is a more sustainable approach to farming, using less land, fuel and water to reach customers. But this operation also comes with a key benefit to food safety.
BrightFarms’ distribution model, in which a single greenhouse farm serves only local retailers, combined with their use of IBM Food Trust, makes it easy to identify the greenhouse should a safety issue arise. This means that grocers can leave BrightFarms produce on the shelves even in the face of a national recall where the centralized supply chain for lettuce is in question.
Transparency plays a significant role in the way BrightFarms ensures food safety for all its products. From the moment seeds are planted until packaged greens arrive at the retailer, BrightFarms uses IBM Food Trust to gather data about each step of the growing, packaging and delivery process. Once the greens are on the shelves, the retailer can continue to add data to the platform as well, including how long the greens have been in the store and at what temperature they are being stored.
Blockchain acts as an immutable database contributed to by several different members of the food supply chain. Because no one party has complete control over the data, information about shipments can’t be altered after the fact, creating an assurance that the data is trustworthy. It also makes it easier to share information to stakeholders along the supply chain.
This visibility enables the food industry to respond faster to outbreaks by identifying the source quickly and easily. Grocers can know exactly which shipments are contaminated and leave the rest for their customers.
Open and transparent models, like those of IBM Food Trust and BrightFarms, have a unique power to inspire trust from those they serve because of their resistance to disruption. This Food Safety Day it is important to remember that food safety requires constant vigilance and cooperation on the part of producers, suppliers and retailers in order to keep their consumers safe. New operational models like these are helping make progress across the food supply chain and restoring faith in something as simple as a salad.
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