There is little margin for error in the food industry. One mishap in food supply or preparation could have dangerous consequences. Recently, we’ve seen an alarming string of illnesses and deaths as the result of poor food supply tracking. Romaine lettuce was recalled in November 2018 for an E. Coli outbreak that hospitalized dozens. And just this month, almost 100,000 pounds of ground beef was recalled, also over an E. Coli scare.
The main culprit in most foodborne illnesses is inefficient tracking. Without the ability to directly source a food's origin, it's a lengthy process to figure that out in the case of an outbreak. According to Laura Gieraltowski, head of the CDC team for foodborne outbreak response, traditional food supply methods are “very difficult and very time-consuming." Grocery stores don’t necessarily keep detailed records on distribution centers through which food passes, or even on the original growers.
Implementation of blockchain’s ledger technology could improve things dramatically. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said food suppliers should experiment with blockchain because it could link outbreaks “to a specific grower, specific farm and a specific distributor."
The most prominent use of blockchain in food is being hailed by the FDA as a next-generation solution. Retail giant Walmart employs the ledgers to digitally track and trace its lettuce supply chains from farm to warehouse to store to customer. If a consumer complains of foodborne illness, Walmart’s blockchain can trace food back to its grower in a mere 2.2 seconds.
Want to know more about blockchain? Read in-depth blockchain resources here.
As blockchain becomes increasingly prevalent in food safety (it also processes payments more quickly and distributes digital coupons for restaurants), we've rounded up five U.S. companies that use the transparent ledger technology to great effect.
Location: Armonk, N.Y.
How it’s using blockchain in food: IBM created the IBM Food Trust to help bring transparency and efficiency to food supply chains. The company has dozens of products that measure food safety and freshness and help to reduce waste. Real-time certifications, test data and temperature data ensure that proper food handling protocols are met.
Industry Impact: IBM partnered with Walmart to help launch the retailer's food track-and-trace program. IBM’s open-source ledger lets Walmart officials trace the lifespan of their products, from farm to table, to ensure safety. Walmart declared the initial ledger experiment (for lettuce) a success and plans to conduct further experiments with other foods soon.
How it’s using blockchain in food: The Transparent Path platform displays the farm-to-distributor journey of food in real-time. The company’s chain-of-custody software helps restaurants and CPG brands manage food safety and consumers to research a food's origins.
Industry Impact: The Transparent Path framework combines printed sensor technology, third-party auditors and decentralized blockchain apps to give food vendors a transparent real-time look at their food chain-of-custody.
Location: San Francisco
How it’s using blockchain in food: Ripe.io uses blockchain to increase transparency in the food supply chain. The Ripe.io blockchain ecosystem has a variety of tools to map the food journey, including supply chain tracking, secure data aggregation, bran quality verification and sensor and IoT integration.
Industry Impact: Blockchain is being implemented in many ways throughout the end-to-end food process. With Ripe.io, farmers leverage blockchain-backed IoT devices to automate farming processes, distributors track food in real-time and consumers receive verified information about their food’s journey.
Location: Manhattan Beach, Calif.
How it’s using blockchain in food: The Greenfence platform uses ledger technology to authenticate and trace all actors in the food chain-of-custody process. The software identifies and certifies the people, locations, distributors, equipment and anything else involved in the farm-to-table process to ensure that quality standards are being met every step of the way.
Industry Impact: Greenfence’s platform provides each farmer and distributor with biography and messenging channels so consumers can read about them and reach out with questions or concerns.
Location: New York
How it’s using blockchain in food: Using Hungry Coin's universal blockchain rewards system, restaurants can engage and reward patrons with digital Hungry Coin Utility Tokens. The traceable tokens can be traded between consumers or redeemed for free meals and other discounts.
Industry Impact: The Hungry Coin blockchain ecosystem features cold storage wallets for the storage and quick use of tokens. Additionally, the company’s blockchain offers instant settlements that record the transfer and use of Hungry Coin Utility Tokens in real-time.
Images via Shutterstock, social media and screenshots of company web pages.