If you have a Roman lettuce in your crunchy, it's time to throw it away. Yesterday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that Roman lettuce is dangerous to eat in any form due to contamination by a dangerous type of E. coli bacteria.
The warning throws a large net, covering every already bought lettuce, or waiting to be bought wholesale or on supermarket shelves. And rightly so. According to the Washington Post, the CDC does not know where, when and how contamination took place. Which means that instead of identifying the source (or the sources) of contamination and eliminating lettuce from only those suppliers, they must play on the safe side and condemn all the Romini at the national level in the trash.
Not only does it ruin many Caesar salads – especially those destined for Thanksgiving table – but it also creates a mountain of food waste and could have far-reaching effects on agricultural producers. This outbreak also arrives only a few months after another load of Romaine contaminated by E. Coli (apparently unrelated to the current group) left 5 dead.
One tool that some think may help solve the problem is the blockchain. While blockchain can not prevent an outbreak from occurring, it can help to quickly identify the source so that farmers can prevent further contamination. It also allows retailers to pick up only contaminated products from the shelves, so they are not stuck to throw the baby out with dirty water.
Some companies are already exploiting the blockchain to try to increase the traceability of food. In September, Walmart announced that it would require all its leafy green food suppliers to upload production data on the blockchain through its IBM food network. Ripe.io recently raised $ 2.4 million to create its "Blockchain for Food", which allows users to access a detailed record of any food product at any time.
The FoodLogiQ traceability company is also experimenting with blockchain. In June, they launched a research and development center to explore new technologies in food safety. The first objective of the project: blockchain.
I contacted the CMO of FoodLogiQ, Katy Jones, to get his last call to Romaine. He said that news like this illustrates how difficult end-to-end traceability in the food system is. And blockchain he could play a role in this.
"[Blockchain has] potential to be a transformation method to open transparency in the food supply chain, "he said.
But it's not a perfect solution. "Without data based on a common standard and supply chain partners committed to gathering and reporting on such data, blockchain alone will not solve these problems," concluded Jones. After all, inside the blockchain is just a ledger, which means it's just as good as the information that humans – who have been known to make mistakes – come in.
The bottom line is that we do not know how effective the blockchain will be in helping to identify and mitigate epidemics. But we know that as long as most of the farmers, retailers and everyone in the middle are coming together to use the new technology, blockchain will not be the magic wand that some hope it will be. Sorry, lovers of lettuce.
In a 2018 Smart Kitchen Summit panel, mature.io and Walmart executives addressed the role of blockchain in food and food security. Watch the video to hear the whole conversation.