How IBM's expanding blockchain-based grocery store network will improve food safety

Albertsons is the latest grocery store to adopt the blockchain-based system for tracing food from farm to store shelf.

The blockchain is already transforming the food tech industry Foodshed.io CEO Daniel Beckmann explains how the blockchain is used to monitor crop production, and could greatly improve the quality of our global food supply.

IBM continues to expand the blockchain-based Food Trust network to improve the way food is traced from farm to grocery store, with Albertsons Companies piloting food safety measures in its 2,300 stores across the US, IBM announced this week.

The Food Trust, announced in 2017, already includes more than 80 brands aiming to bring blockchain-based traceability to the food supply chain, from producers to suppliers to retailers to consumers. Others involved include Dole, Kroger, McCormick and Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever, and Walmart.

SEE: What is blockchain? Understanding the technology and the revolution (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The Trust represents an ideal application of blockchain, the distributed ledger technology upon which bitcoin is based. Because members of the network can share digital, distributed, and immutable data, those across the supply chain can all trace and authenticate products and optimize processes, according to an IBM press release. The Food Trust creates a digital record of transactions, including packaging dates, the temperature at which a product is shipped, and when it arrives in a grocery store.

IBM's Food Trust is built on Hyperledger Fabric-based open source technology, and uses permissioning to allow companies to set rules about who can see the data they upload, and maintain control over it. The Food Trust is one of the largest, most active non-crypto blockchain networks currently in production, the release noted, and is available as a subscription service for food ecosystem members to join.

With more participants in this system, IBM aims to address a range of food supply issues, including efficiency, freshness, waste reduction, sustainability, and the ability to verify certifications like organic or fair trade, the release noted. When a national food recall occurs, a system like this can help pull the impacted products off of shelves more efficiently.

More than five million food products digitized on the solution have already hit grocery store shelves, according to the release.

Albertsons Companies will pilot the Food Trust for tracing bulk romaine lettuce from one of its food distribution centers, with plans to expand to other food categories.

"Blockchain technology has the potential to be transformational for us as we further build differentiation on our fresh brand," Anuj Dhanda, CIO of Albertsons Companies, said in the release. "Food safety is a very significant step. In addition, the provenance of the products enabled by blockchain—the ability to track every move from the farm to the customer's basket—can be very empowering for our customers."

For more, check out Top 5: Business uses for blockchain on TechRepublic.

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By Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.