BENTONVILLE, Arkansas – Ten top food companies have formed the Food Trust group to develop and launch a blockchain in an effort to avoid crises such as the recent E. coli bacteria contamination of romaine lettuce that reportedly killed five people and made 197 more ill, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A blockchain is a digitized, public ledger that was originally created to record cryptocurrency transactions. When the concept is used to capture and record real-time data about individual food products, it can identify issues quickly, improve the speed of recalls and shorten the time that consumers could be affected.
For decades, no retailer, food producer, industry organization or government agency has known exactly how food moves from farm or field to the consumer’s fork. Today’s federal regulations require that anyone in the supply chain—from food processor to trucking company—maintain accurate records about how food came to them and where it went afterwards. Traditionally, this information has been kept on paper.
In case of a food-related crisis, investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contact those who came in contact with the food to determine how the situation might have occurred. Often, an investigation takes months and might not uncover the source of the problem. The blockchain could change this scenario.
The system, which has been in testing for the past year, eliminates the challenge of paper record-keeping. The Food Trust offers a mobile app that allows farmers, pickers and others to enter data quickly onto the blockchain, which updates encrypted data on all participants’ systems.
The blockchain establishes ownership of information that experts say can’t be falsified and eliminates costly middle layers due to its peer-to-peer structure. The platform is based on technology provided by IBM, and the current system records data related to 1 million products in about 50 food categories.
Walmart is leading this Food Trust effort. Other corporate members of the group include Nestlé, Unilever NV, Dole Food Co., Driscoll’s Inc., Golden State Foods, McCormick and Co, Kroger, McLane and Tyson Foods. Details of a blockchain rollout have not been announced.