Albertsons and IBM put romaine lettuce on the blockchain for food safety

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Albertsons Cos. LLC and IBM Corp. announced today that they’re looking to improve the safety of sandwiches and salads by piloting a program that will track romaine lettuce with distributed ledger blockchain technology.

The blockchain-based IBM Food Trust network will supply the service to Albertsons so it can track bulk heads of romaine, which was implicated in a recent E. coli infection outbreak, from farms to store shelves.

A blockchain is a database of records that uses cryptography and massive distribution to ensure the veracity of data after it is stored. As a result, it can be used to authenticate and trace transactions or items as they pass through a supply chain along with vital information. This can include origin, packaging date and time, transport times, temperatures and any number of other data points necessary for food safety.

As a result, conditions of entire crops from harvest to packaging can be traced and tracked. If any one batch is discovered to be contaminated, other batches from the same facility can be rapidly pulled and tested or simply recalled from store shelves.

The system can also be used to verify certifications such as organic or fair trade labels, reduce supply chain waste and enable better sustainability through more efficient processing and shipping.

“Since first introducing IBM Food Trust, we have met a number of milestones that show the path toward transforming the end-to-end food system,” said Raj Rao, general manager at IBM Food Trust. “Today, we are further scaling the network to bring blockchain-based traceability to an even wider cross-section of retailers, suppliers and end consumers. By working with the top retailers all over the world, we are truly helping to provide a safer and more transparent food system for all.”

The technology of IBM Food Trust is already being used to make the end-to-end food supply chain for farms and retailers safer and more transparent. In October, IBM partnered with Golden State Foods, McCormick and Co., Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and others in a food safety consortium that uses blockchain technology to increase food safety. Since last year, IBM Food Trust has expanded to more than 50 brands.

Albertsons, which operates nearly 2,300 stores across the United States, will begin piloting the blockchain network to track romaine lettuce out of one of its distribution centers. After that implementation is complete and testing underway, the company expects to expand the project to explore covering other food categories. Albertsons plans to use the pilot to overcome obstacles regarding the tracking and recall of romaine, which can affect other products similarly.

“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, vice president of Food Safety and Quality Assurance at Albertsons Companies. “Consequently, retailers are exploring new technologies to improve the infrastructure that underpins the global food supply chain.”

In the United States alone over 48 million people get sick each year from foodborne illness, according to CDC estimates, and of those people 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Food distributors, retailers and IBM are dedicated to helping reduce those numbers and believe blockchain pilots such as IBM Food Trust and blockchain technology will be part of that solution.

“Blockchain technology has the potential to be transformational for us as we further build differentiation on our fresh brand,” said Anuj Dhanda, chief information officer at Albertsons. “Food safety is a very significant step, though the provenance of the products enabled by blockchain, the ability to track every move from the farm to the customer’s basket, can be very empowering for our customers.”

Photo: Pixabay

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