Food giants Nestlé and Unilever team up on IBM blockchain plan

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

Blockchain technology, which so far is best known for digital currency known as bitcoin, will now be used by IBM and a consortium of food providers as well as retailers in an attempt to improve food safety.

The blockchain - or distributed ledger technology - is a log of data maintained on a network of computers, rather than a physical ledger. "Our work with organizations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM's new platform, will further unleash 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". Food products can be digitally tracked from suppliers to store shelves and consumers.

The company's latest initiative also sees it team up with USA seasonings and spice maker McCormick, packaged fruit supplier Dole Food Co. and foodservice supplier Golden State Foods.

Dole, Driscoll's, Tyson, and Nestlé are collaborating with IBM to develop a blockchain for the food supply system.

Rapid checks of foods will be available through the blockchain system, they noted in a joint announcement.

Several corporations that sell food have announced they are teaming up with IBM to fight food contamination using blockchain technology.

Every year, it points out, 400,000 people die as a result of contaminated food, but delays in tracing the source of an outbreak mean that many of those deaths might conceivably be avoided. "It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network", said Walmart food safety vice president Frank Yiannas. "This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all". Numerous critical issues impacting food safety such as cross-contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls are magnified by the lack of access to information and traceability. "Food safety is a universal priority for food retailers and companies". The technology ensures that records can not be duplicated, manipulated or faked, and because it allows data to be entered, shared and viewed across the supply chain, the goods' journey from farm to plate is immediately visible and transparent to all parties.

In addition to food safety, IBM is pursuing other blockchain supply chain initiatives, these include using the IBM Blockchain Platform for an automated billing and invoicing system.

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

The launch of the IBM Blockchain Platform, upon which the food blockchain is based, the first integrated, enterprise-grade production blockchain platform, IBM said, that allows companies to quickly activate business networks.

IBM said that blockchain was "ideally suited" to help address issues such as identifying sources of contamination in the supply chain and establishing the provenance of food because it "establishes a trusted environment for all transactions".

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