Home / Blockchain / The blockchain could be the answer of the food chain to the Roman lettuce E. coli and other outbreaks?

The blockchain could be the answer of the food chain to the Roman lettuce E. coli and other outbreaks?

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E. coli romaine lettuce is over, but it took some consumers to reject vitamin-rich green leafy vegetables again.

This is a concern for everyone up and down the food supply chain, from farmers to grocers. So the food industry is turning to a new technology to help stop the spread of food-borne diseases: blockchain.

While it has become a word of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, blockchain is a 10-year-old technology that is put to work in the food industry. It has the ability to identify the source of a suspected food item at a faster outbreak, say food safety experts. At the moment, it may take several weeks to track down where a food has been contaminated. Sometimes, such information is not traceable at all.

Walmart is testing the technology as part of a pilot project led by IBM started last summer. Even large food companies including Dole, Driscoll & # 39; s, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Kroger are part of the program.

It is still new. There are 45,000 items in a traditional supermarket, and it takes some time for the $ 700 billion grocery stores to adopt a new supply chain tool, even one that is advertised as a major problem solution.

Suzanne Livingston, director of IBM's food trust program, will be moving quickly, with all the major companies already on board, in the fresh produce and food sector.

"With each incident, we always look at the devastating results and see what would have been different," he said. "All we need now is more companies."

Blockchain provides a digital record that can not be changed without all parties agreeing to change it. This can create a secure and quickly accessible record of each step that a food, such as a sliced ​​mango package, has traveled down the road to the consumer table.

Competitors do not necessarily want to share data with each other and assume they are part of the blockchain agreement. But in fact, IBM has developed a model in which it is possible to access information within a trusted group based on the need for knowledge, said Livingston. Furthermore, no part has all the data or the system.

Frank Yiannas is Walmart's vice president of food security and is making an effort with IBM to put block-chain technology to work to put an end to foodborne disease epidemics. (Tom Ewart / NWA Photo 2013 / Walmart)

Frank Yiannas is Walmart's vice president of food security and is making an effort with IBM to put block-chain technology to work to put an end to foodborne disease epidemics. (Tom Ewart / NWA Photo 2013 / Walmart)

Because it is necessary

In addition to potentially saving lives, there are financial incentives to solve the mystery of where food contamination began faster and more accurately.

Expensive memories hurt the entire food industry.

"The food product is guilty until proven otherwise," said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food security at Walmart. He's driving the effort at Walmart and first came to IBM with the concept to apply blockchain to food safety. ,

In May, sales of Roman lettuce were still down 45% from a year ago, according to Nielsen data. The Food and Drug Administration has learned a cluster of E. coli infections a month earlier, on 4 April. As of June 1, five deaths and 89 hospitalizations were reported in 197 cases of patients due to E. coli infections related to romaine lettuce in several states including Texas, according to the Center for Disease Control.

"There is a need for greater traceability of food with attributes available in real time on how food has been produced, packaged, shipped, delivered, stored and stored in a store," said Yiannas. He spoke at a blockchain conference in April at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business in Austin.

What is tried

Yiannas said he was a great skeptic about a holy grail of food traceability, but said the blockchain has goods compared to today's paper records and manual inspections.

He was convinced last year, working with small farms in South America to get a basis for how long it would take to track down a pack of mangoes cut in a field.

It took six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes.

With the mangoes traced in a blockchain, it took a few seconds to find the farm, he said. This year, Walmart has surpassed the pilot and uses the blockchain platform on two dozen fresh foods in poultry, dairy products and milk corridors. The product is in Walmart stores in North Texas.

While it is being worked on, Walmart is planning to extend it to additional suppliers and items by the end of this year, Yiannas said.

"The legal requirement for traceability today is a step forward and a step backwards and it's all on paper, which is obsolete for the 21st century," he said. "Farmers, processors and distributors and every segment of the food system are in their own way."

The one-step method often works, but it took several days to find the salmonella-contaminated melon distributor this week in the Midwest.

The Romaine lettuce was finally traced to the fields of Yuma, Arizona.

According to the FDA, the latest Roman lettuce shipments from the Yuma region were harvested on April 16th. It has a shelf life of 21 days so it is unlikely that Yuma's lettuce is still in stores, restaurants or people's homes, the FDA said.

Walmart is working with IBM, other retailers and food suppliers to develop a system that uses blockchain technology in the shopping corridors. It would quickly identify the source of outbreaks such as the diseases and deaths of spring 2018 related to the Roman lettuce contaminated with E. coli. Walmart tested the system in 2017 with sliced ​​mangoes. (Courtesy photo / Walmart)

Walmart is working with IBM, other retailers and food suppliers to develop a system that uses blockchain technology in the shopping corridors. It would quickly identify the source of outbreaks such as the diseases and deaths of spring 2018 related to the Roman lettuce contaminated with E. coli. Walmart tested the system in 2017 with sliced ​​mangoes. (Courtesy photo / Walmart)

But the public is still wary.

Two months after the FDA noticed, he was selling a green leaf for 99 cents to Kroger and packaged hearts of Tom Thumb romaine that showed large stickers marked "Raised in California". According to Nielsen, iceberg lettuce and pre-packaged salad mix also saw sales decline in April and May.

The major supermarket chains contacted, even Walmart, have refused to talk about lettuce sales in their stores. La roma was "a general issue in the food sector," said Walmart spokesman Molly Blakeman.

The future

The customer wants to learn more about what he is eating, and the concept of blockchain has been proven, but putting it into practice will take time, said Yiannas.

"We are wondering what would have happened with the Rome accident if we had done so," said Doug Baker, vice president of technology at the Food Marketing Institute.

Kroger, the second-largest US grocer after Walmart, and Wegmans, a strong regional supermarket chain in the Northeast, are using technology, Baker said. "So they are big food suppliers, so it's the right group and having Walmart makes a big statement that everyone should do it."

Most of the others are still learning, Baker said. "It is necessary: ​​the perishing does not concern the days, but the hours."

Yiannas and others say that the digital ledger democratizes information. All you need is a smart device like a telephone and Internet access. So far, millions of food parcels have been marked with blockchain by participating companies.

The entire system is blamed when something breaks down or is contaminated with salmonella or E. coli, or a distribution center can not keep the product at the right temperature.

"We need to move this from finding the fault to looking for facts," Yiannas said. "If nobody is eating romaine, the whole system loses".


Explore further:
Americans, Canadians are advised not to eat romaine lettuce (update)

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