IBM’s Blockchain For Food Gains Major US Grocer

News at a glance

  • According to a press release, Albertsons has joined hands with IBM’s Food Trust blockchain initiative in order to test the technological ability to track the origin of romaine lettuce.
  • The grocer plans to “pilot the solution to help overcome the obstacles that have existed when a traceback is initiated for a product like romaine and is evaluating ways to use the technology to highlight the provenance of its extensive Own Brands portfolio,” according to the release. The pilot will begin in one distribution centre.
  • In February, IBM made the Food Trust solution “generally available”, and grocers like Kroger, Carrefour and Walmart, as well as food companies like Tyson Foods, Unilever, McCormick, Dole, and Golden State Foods have done their experiments with the technology to trace various food items through their supply chains.

Testing of blockchain by food supply chains are still going on to see if it is the right technology to solve the emerging problems of food traceability. Not only the consumers are interested in knowing the origin of their food but more frequent food-borne illness outbreaks make a lack of traceability a serious threat to food businesses — especially those trading in particularly relevant products such as romaine lettuce. Albertsons is not the only grocer which has recognized this problem.

“Multiple high-profile consumer advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration demonstrate the need to find more efficient ways of tracing products and identifying likely sources of contamination in a timely manner,” said Jerry Noland, VP of food safety and quality assurance for Albertsons Companies.

The more the merrier, said IBM, noting in its release that blockchain networks are stronger when more actors make more transactions. “That is why the solution can enable an ecosystem of companies from across the food industry to onboard and share data,” the release reads.

Indeed, more participation in IBM’s program will offer proof that tracing food using blockchain technology will help in improving the safety of the food supply.

Nigel Gopie, marketing leader for IBM blockchain explained that in a large network, mistakes in data entry can be corrected. “If there is an error in data entry, it can be corrected with consensus from the network,” Gopie said. The impact of human error on such a system would be determined by the universal standards for data entry, format and governance of the system. IBM’s system has not yet been tested at scale on these grounds, so more participants of Albertsons’ size can only improve the experiment.

“Today, we are focused on ensuring that the solution is accessible to participants across the food ecosystem, such as Albertsons Companies. By bringing more members into the network and enabling them to share greater cross-sections of data in a secured environment, we believe our vision of a transformed food ecosystem using blockchain is closer than ever,” Raj Rao, general manager of IBM Food Trust, said in a statement.