Blockchain to Save People’s Lives by Tracing Food Supply
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that an outbreak of E. coli was spreading throughout the US. Apparently, the cause was due to romaine lettuce which had been tainted with the dangerous disease. The CDC urged Americans to immediately stop eating romaine lettuce, as the source of the outbreak had yet to be identified.
The outbreak resulted in hundreds of businesses removing products with romaine from their shelves, whether there was any sign of these products being tainted with E. coli or not. Eventually, the source of the outbreak was found, and the nationwide scare finally came to an end.
Unfortunately, not much was learned from the outbreak in 2017. In 2018, the CDC again reported another E. coli outbreak. Again, a handful of people became sick, and stores were forced to remove foods containing romaine from their shelves and throw them away. For two years in a row now, millions of dollars have been wasted and many left sick due to the inability to track the food we eat.
The E. coli outbreaks of 2017 and 2018 are nothing new. There have been countless examples worldwide of large-scale recalls due to people getting sick after ingesting foods, which at some point in the supply chain became tainted with a harmful substance. Such examples can be seen through the China milk scandal of 2008 or the 2007 pet food recall, both of which had ties to the harmful compound melamine.
With 2019 just starting, it seems there may finally be a solution to this now too common a problem. The solution is blockchain that has the potential to put an end to any food-related outbreak whatsoever.
Bringing About Transparency with Blockchain
Blockchain is now finding multiple uses in business-to-business operations as its use of a distributed digital ledger provides greater transparency for consumers and company shareholders.
When blockchain is applied to food supply chain monitoring, details about each product making its way through a supply chain can be recorded by a blockchain. If at some point a food begins to make people sick, ideally, the blockchain can be analyzed in order to identify the source. This would allow for millions of dollars and potentially a significant amount of lives to be saved in the process.
Let’s take a look at romaine lettuce, for example. Say there are three points in the supply chain: the producer, packager, and retailer.
- The producer would be able to upload information concerning romaine onto a blockchain. This could include weight, type, fertilizers that were used to grow it, or any other information that would be deemed valuable.
- At the next point in the chain, which would be packaging, details about packaging materials, romaine condition, and other defining aspects of romaine at that point in the chain could further be identified and uploaded.
- Finally, at the last link in the chain, the retailer would be able to look back at all the available data and make new records when and where necessary.
Although this is a hypothetical example, businesses are already turning to blockchain supply chain companies to integrate the new technology into their supply chains.
Walmart Begins Requiring Suppliers to Utilize Blockchain
One of the largest retailers in the US, Walmart, began researching and developing their own blockchain solution. In September 2018, Walmart sent out letters to their leafy green suppliers informing them that if they wished to continue working with Walmart that they would need to implement blockchain into their systems.
According to the letter, Walmart’s “suppliers are expected to work within their vertical systems or with their suppliers to enable end-to-end traceability back to farm by September 30, 2019.” That means Walmart’s suppliers will have until September 2019 to ensure their blockchain system participation is in order.
With the power of blockchain in their hands, Walmart will eventually be able to stop the spread of romaine-related disease outbreaks simply by identifying the source through the chain. Not only will this help save lives, but it will also help in identifying the regions these outbreaks stem from, thereby allowing Walmart to remove only tainted romaine from their shelves.
Ultimately, this service will most likely be expanded by Walmart to include other foods, beverages, and products. Ideally, it will be made available to customers so they can see where their food has been and what has been done to it.
This is just one case in which blockchain can be a useful tool. There are many other industries in which blockchain technology can be applied to provide a more transparent supply chain.
What Does Blockchain Bring to the Table?
2017 and 2018 were two terrible years as far as food contamination is concerned. For far too long have consumers and retailers been victims to the outdated food traceability systems in place. Blockchain technology holds the keys to unlocking safer food supply chain management.
Tatsiana Levdikova is a Content Marketer at OpenLedger ApS, a blockchain development company. She is passionate about blockchain, IoT, health IT, natural language processing, web and software design and development, fintech, and more.