Innovation

IBM taps blockchain to combat food contamination in global supply chain

IBM is partnering with food suppliers including Dole, Nestlé, and Walmart to better regulate food safety using blockchain.

On Tuesday, IBM announced a major blockchain collaboration with a number of leading food suppliers to better track contaminated food and prevent it from reaching consumers. IBM will work with Dole, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever, and Walmart on this effort, according to a press release.

Each year, one in 10 people fall ill and 400,000 people die globally due to contaminated food, according to the World Health Organization. And many food safety issues including cross-contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, and unnecessary waste are made worse by a lack of access to information and traceability, as it can take weeks to identify the exact point of contamination. For example, the press release noted, it took more than two months to identify the farm source of contamination in a recent incidence of salmonella in papayas, leading to further illness, lost revenue, and wasted food.

Enter the power of blockchain, which can address these challenges because the technology "establishes a trusted environment for all transactions," according to the press release. In the global food supply chain industry, this means all growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators, and consumers can gain permissioned access to information about the origin and state of food in their transactions. All members of the ecosystem can use the blockchain network to trace contaminated foods to their source in a short amount of time, to ensure they are quickly removed from store shelves.

SEE: The executive's guide to implementing blockchain technology (free download)

Dole and the other food companies will work with IBM to identify and prioritize new areas where blockchain can aid in food ecosystems and move toward new IBM solutions in the area.

IBM and Walmart recently ran parallel trials in China and the US, demonstrating that blockchain can be used to track a product from a farm through every stage of the supply chain up to the retail shelf in just seconds, instead of days or weeks.

"Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system - equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors," said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, in the press release. "It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all."

Blockchain has proved to be the larger value of cryptocurrencies, with implications for almost every industry, not just tracking digital currency. IBM noted that the technology is now being used to streamline processes and transactions in fields including real estate, trade finance, education, insurance, and healthcare.

IBM itself has made a number of efforts in the field, including partnering with part of the London Stock Exchange Group to build a blockchain tool to manage shareholder data. It is also working with Lenovo to use blockchain for invoicing, the release noted.

SEE: Blockchain: The smart person's guide

The company also announced what it calls the first fully-integrated, enterprise-grade production blockchain platform on the IBM Cloud, as well as consulting services, to allow more companies to access the technology. The platform builds on IBM's work with more than 400 organizations across industries to implement blockchain.

The platform addresses business and technical requirements around security, performance, collaboration, and privacy, and includes innovation developed through open source collaboration in the Hyperledger community. It allows several parties to jointly develop, govern, operate, and secure blockchain networks to speed adoption of the technology in the enterprise, according to IBM. It is now available via the IBM Cloud.

"Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together, enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth," said Marie Wieck, general manager of IBM Blockchain, in the release. "IBM's platform further unleashes the vast potential of this exciting technology, making it faster for organizations of all sizes and in all industries to move from concept to production to improve the way business gets done."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. On Tuesday, IBM announced a partnership with Dole, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever, and Walmart to use blockchain to better track contaminated food and prevent it from reaching consumers.

2. IBM also released a blockchain platform on the IBM Cloud, to help organizations implement the technology quickly to streamline their processes.

3. Blockchain has proved to have a number of applications across industries, including healthcare, retail, and finance.

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A crate of oranges gets scanned as part of a food safety blockchain.

Image: IBM

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About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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