Two Fortune 100 companies have teamed up to drastically alter the $1.5 trillion food industry by leveraging blockchain technology.
Walmart, the largest U.S. company, announced on Monday that it will require suppliers to install blockchain systems by September 2019 to track food items from farm to table and prevent E. coli, Salmonella and other health outbreaks that threaten the safety of its millions of customers. Walmart (NYSE: WMT), which has 2016 revenues of $486 billion, and subsidiary Sam's Club partnered with IBM Blockchain (NYSE: IBM) on a disruptive initiative that is sending shockwaves throughout America's food supply chain.
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[caption id="attachment_37078" align="aligncenter" width="1050"] Courtesy of Walmart[/caption]
Real-Time Monitoring Of Food
A Walmart representative wrote on Sept. 24 that the blockchain systems are designed to be "open and accessible through technology that offers real-time, end-to-end traceability" and that they "[allow] for digitized sharing of data in a secure and trusted way." The company believes that food audits that trace contaminated items — which currently can take seven days — can be whittled down to as little as 2.2 seconds with real-time monitoring on blockchain-powered networks.
IBM, the no. 34 company in Fortune 100 rankings, specializes in enterprise-scale blockchain solutions and is considered the dominant player in the space. A September 2018 survey by Juniper Research found that 65% of companies prefer IBM Blockchain over competing distributed ledger technology (DLT) providers such as Microsoft (second at just 7%), Accenture, Deloitte, Oracle and others.
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[caption id="attachment_37082" align="aligncenter" width="1050"] Courtesy of Walmart[/caption]
Efficient Supply Chain
Walmart said its initiative will make the supply chain significantly more efficient because suppliers and distribution centers (such as groceries) won't have to throw away large quantities of food when a potential outbreak occurs — as was the case when E. coli in romaine lettuce sickened 210 people in 36 states earlier this year. Similarly, a Salmonella outbreak resulted in recalls of breakfast cereal, crackers, eggs, melons and raw turkey.
In such case, it's crucial for the food supply chain to investigate quickly so they can act faster to protect the public, according to Walmart.
"It’s crucial to respond quickly and accurately to food safety issues like these," wrote Matt Smith, a Walmart spokesman. "But with the traditional paper-based method of capturing information that exists at many farms, packing houses and warehouses, tracking down important data from multiple sources is extremely time-consuming."
IBM also announced the food initiative on its website.
"A group of the world's leading retailers and food companies are working with IBM to explore how blockchain technology can be used to make the food supply chain safer. Blockchain technology can be used to improve food traceability by providing trusted information on the origin and state of food."
Walmart's blockchain network is designed to track food items at farms, processing facilities, delivery trucks, distribution centers, sales floor and customer checkout. It makes it easier to track the 70,000 items that populate most grocery stores.
"This accuracy and trust is extremely important when both public health and livelihoods are on the line. Instead of taking a week to hunt down information about potential Salmonella in a product, blockchain tracking takes only a couple of seconds."
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