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Walmart now uses blockchain to trace food, will others follow?

Walmart and Sam's Club will now trace leafy greens with blockchain technology, demonstrating its value in logistics and supply chain applications.

Walmart and Sam's Club are looking to the blockchain to begin tracing the origin of the foods sold in their stores. According to a press release, the stores will work with IBM to begin tracking leafy greens such as romaine lettuce.

According to the release, the company is testing blockchain technology in response to food safety scares including E. coli outbreaks in lettuce and Salmonella instances in a variety of foods. Now, Walmart is asking its leafy greens suppliers to use the blockchain to track these products on a more granular level.

"This change means that the information gathered by these suppliers will be open and accessible through technology that offers real-time, end-to-end traceability from farm to table," the release said. "Blockchain allows for digitized sharing of data in a secure and trusted way."

While the added transparency could help consumers more clearly understand if their particular bag of lettuce was affected by an outbreak, it could also save the company money. If Walmart knows, in greater detail, which particular bags of lettuce are impacted, it could possibly face a smaller recall and issue fewer returns. Of course, this also saves on food waste as fewer unaffected products will be thrown out "just in case."

A lot of tracking is still down on paper ledgers, the release said. This is time-consuming and not as accurate as digital methods.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the blockchain (Tech Pro Research)

As noted by Frank Yiannas, vice president of Food Safety at Walmart, if the CDC recommends avoiding lettuce grow in Yuma, AZ, that is difficult to accomplish. The lettuce packaging or UPS code might not say whether or not it was grown in Yuma, which can confusing for customers. But digital tracking on the blockchain makes it easier to determine an item's origin and whether or not it is impacted by a public health issue.

"When it comes to safety, this is not a competitive issue," Yiannas said in the release. "We all win or lose together."

While the move is progressive, Walmart is definitely not alone in its move to the blockchain. Companies like Nestle and Tyson Foods have also started working with the technology, according to Reuters.

Logistics and supply chain are quickly emerging as the core use cases for blockchain in the enterprise. Walmart has worked with it for years, as well as heavy-hitters like Maersk, UPS, FedEx, and more. It's also driving value across various industries including pharmaceuticals and diamonds. While it remains to be seen how blockchain will upend other aspects of business, it has clear value for the supply chain and will bring heavy disruption in the space.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Walmart and Sam's Club are now using blockchain to track leafy greens sold in their stores.
  • Logistics and supply chain are two of the premier use cases for blockchain, which is being adopted by many companies in various industries.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/Svetl

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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