IBM wants to make blockchain good enough to eat

IBM blockchain

IBM blockchain

Consortium members Nestlé, Wal-Mart Stores, Unilever, Dole, Kroger, Golden State Foods, McCormick and Company, Driscoll's, McLane Company and Tyson Foods have agreed to collaborate with IBM Corp on that initiative, following trials initiated a year ago on the mainland to step up domestic food safety reform efforts.

To identify new uses for blockchain technologies in the supply chain, it is collaborating with a consortium of food manufacturing and distribution giants including Nestle, Tyson Foods, Dole, McCormick, Walmart and Kroger.

The partners noted that one-in-10 people "fall ill" with 400,000 people dying each year due to contaminated food. All participants of the food supply chain will be given an access to trusted information about the food, including its origin, condition and movement. Currently, it can take weeks to trace the point of contamination.

Such food safety issues as unnecessary waste, cross-contamination, and the spread of foodborne illness are getting worse as suppliers have no access to data.

"Blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth", stated IBM Blockchain general manager Marie Wieck.

"These trials also demonstrated that stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain view food safety as a collaborative issue, rather than a competitive one", IBM said.

The technology, which IBM describes as a distributed ledger, tracks where food products were grown, when they were picked, where they were transported to and how they were used. "Our work with organisations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM's new platform, will further unleash the vast potential of this exciting technology".

Blockchain technology will simplify supply chains with automatic tracking of important information, such as temperature and quality of goods, shipment and delivery dates, and safety certifications of facilities.

In separate trials with Walmart in the United States and China, IBM demonstrated how the technology could track prooduce from farm to shelf. "Food safety is a universal priority for food retailers and companies".

Given the complexity of the food supply chain from producer to consumer, blockchains could actually find a pretty interesting niche here because they would allow for more transparency and traceability (especially when things go wrong). During the pilot, Walmart discovered that it took six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes to trace a package of mangoes back to the farm in the United States where they were grown, whereas with blockchain this was possible in just a couple of seconds.

"It is not just about building the technology, it is about building the ecosystem", Brigid McDermott, vice president for blockchain business development at IBM, said. "It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network", said Walmart food safety vice president Frank Yiannas. "This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all".

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