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2018 has been marked by high profile food recalls ranging from romaine lettuce and thousands of pounds of ground beef to Ritz Crackers and goldfish. Grocery shopping shouldn’t be a game of Russian Roulette where what you pick up for dinner might make you and your family sick.
Over the past 40 years, we’ve gotten a lot better at identifying foods that are contaminated, but that’s not enough. From tracing the cause of contamination, identifying the variety of products affected by the contamination, removing them from shelves, and notifying consumers who may have already purchased them; locating the food is just the first step.
One potential solution to these problems is blockchain, which many know as the technological backbone of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Tech innovators are working on using blockchain technology to monitor supply chains in everything from retail and pharmaceuticals to health insurance and industrial emissions.
Essentially, blockchain is a decentralized cloud-based ledger that, as Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, says, could become the “equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.” Each time there is a transaction in the food’s journey, information about it is added as a “block” to the online network ledger. Information from harvest crew, date, and time, to temperature, storage, and sanitization along each step of the path from farm to store can be easily and quickly uploaded.
This transaction information can be vital to containing the public health impacts of contamination. For example, in 2015 an E. Coli related flour recall was made a whopping 6 months after the initial outbreak of the disease was discovered. These delays risk serious health consequences and point to the need to streamline the process of agriculture supply chain transparency.
The obvious challenge in implementing blockchain technology in food safety is in accurately collecting and inputting the data into the ledger. Additionally, producers, who already backlash to food safety auditors may not buy into the process. However, increasing consumer demand for traceability may push the use of transformational technology like blockchain into the public eye. Updating our food safety policies to give producers and consumers the information they need to protect themselves will will demand new methods and technologies.
— Viveth Karthikeyan