Basically, blockchains are ledgers that are decentralized and distributed across peer-to-peer networks and are continually updated and kept in sync. And since blockchains aren’t contained in a central location, they don’t have a single point of failure—in other words, they can’t be hacked.
For the food industry, blockchains can offer enhanced traceability and better auditing around the sourcing of products and ingredients, shipping dates, and expiration dates. Recently, Walmart and food giants including Unilever and Dole teamed up with IBM to explore how to apply this new technology to their businesses.
The group is using Hyperledger Fabric, a blockchain originally built by IBM and now housed under the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger group. Jonathan Levi, a release manager for Hyperledger Fabric 1.0, explained that blockchain enables “businesses that have to deal with a lot of mandatory data protection requirements and handle sensitive information...to build and deploy decentralized applications to share information and collaborate with others.”
“There is always a need for transparency and better auditing,” said Levi. Plus, increased transparency would empower the supply chain to be more responsive to any foodborne illness outbreaks and other recalls. “(Blockchain) makes it so much easier to track issues, recall products, and issue warnings in a much more timely and accurate manner,” Levi added.
In fact, Walmart has already completed two pilots using blockchain to improve food safety. In one pilot, the retail giant conducted a traceback test on mangoes in one of its stores. It took almost seven days to trace the fruit back to its original farm using traditional methodologies. By using blockchain, Walmart was able to access the information in 2.2 seconds.
“All in all, I believe that this transformation through working with distributed ledgers, better collaboration, and increased transparency will really boost and strengthen not just consumers’ confidence, but also each sellers'," says Levi, "because they will have the tools to know much more about what is being sold at every step of the supply chain.”
To learn more about global food safety standards and what they could mean for alleviating shortages, including in the instance of baby formula, we asked IFT’s own Steve Havlik to address a few questions.
Toxic element exposure in early life and toxic metals in tainted baby foods are top of mind for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) and FDA as they work to safeguard the food supply. Last year, the USDA announced a new action plan called Closer to Zero, which identifies steps the agency will take over the next three years to reduce exposure to toxic elements from foods eaten by babies and young children. Read more about how IFT’s is engaging with this initiative.
IFT responds to scientific questions to be examined to support the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Specifically, “What is the relationship between consumption of dietary patterns with varying amounts of ultra-processed foods and growth, size, body composition, risk of overweight and obesity, and weight loss and maintenance?”