Enough of the spoiled food: Walmart and Carrefour add blockchain so you know what you eat
A few months ago, several supermarkets in Argentina had to remove from their gondolas a series of frozen products that the ANMAT prohibited because it contained a highly dangerous bacteria.
It was a preventive measure after the European Union warned about the contamination of frozen foodstuffs from the Hungarian plant Greenyard Frozen Hungary Kft.
It was suspected that these products contained the bacterium Listeria Monocytogenes, which caused an outbreak of listeriosis in Europe. In Argentina, these foods were marketed -in their majority- with the own brand of large supermarkets.
Something similar happened in mid-June in the United States, where there was an outbreak of 210 infections, 96 hospitalizations and five deaths, caused by the bacterium Escherichia Coli present in a lot of lettuce grown in Arizona.
Since the sanitary authorities could not specify the origin of the contaminated lettuce lot, millions of bags of this vegetable were removed from the market, no matter where they were produced. The same happened in 2006, but with spinach.
"At that time several people from different areas died and could not be geolocated in any specific region, it took more than two months to find where the product was produced, until a study determined that everything came from the same producer, the same batch and the Same day, "says María Elena Murano, Blockchain leader of IBM Argentina, to iProUP.
This public health problem also became an economic concern, due to consumers' fears about buying frozen vegetables.
"After that, the spinach industry took seven years to recover the same market levels it had before the epidemic, the same thing happened with lettuce," the executive concluded.
As a result of these episodes, a regulation arose in the United States that obliges us to count on the traceability of the entire production chain of perishable foodstuffs, including those that are imported.
In this sense, blockchain is a great ally: it offers numerous applications in the field of food and could have prevented intoxication.
This technology allows us to know the origin of the food that is bought in a supermarket and, in this way, to make the supply chain of the world's products safer, more efficient and more sustainable.
In this way, you can search and find a food item in poor condition in just a few seconds.
"There are different parties that participate in the supply chain and each of them manages the information in different formats, nobody is the total owner of the data, in that kind of situations is where technology makes a difference, because it allows each one can share the information without transferring ownership to another person ", adds Murano.
And it exemplifies: "If I am the producer of spinach, I will always be the one who says how much I produced and nobody will be able to say it for me, nor will it contradict it." There is no way to misrepresent the data.
The IBM Food Trust program, officially launched after 18 months of testing, uses blockchain to create visibility and responsibility in the food supply chain.
It works as a network that connects producers, distributors and retailers through a record of authorized, permanent and shared food system data.
Its objective is to improve the capacity of companies to identify problems related to food recalls and follow-up of outbreaks to eliminate customer risks.
In August 2017, IBM announced a collaboration with food producers and retailers such as Dole, Driscoll, Golden StateFoods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestle, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart to test the solution. Since then, technology has added more followers.
Walmart, for example, implemented a system in its fruits that allows, through a simple mobile application, that its customers can see all the details of these products.
The supermarket chain sent a statement to its suppliers of green products to ask them to join the network before September 2019.
The company explained in the document that the initiative to add blockchain in the traceability of food is a way to digitize and share information in a complex network, safely and reliably.
In this way, consumers benefit by obtaining greater transparency; producers improve their processes and knowledge; and businesses have a database that provides them with greater food security.
Carrefour was added to the American chain. The French company that operates in more than 12 thousand stores in 33 countries will first test the blockchain in its own stores in France, Spain and Brazil. By 2022, it plans to expand the technology to all its brands around the world.
In its premises in France, the supermarket chain implemented QR codes on the product labels so that customers can access all the information from their smartphones.
Regardless of its size, any company can join this network through a monthly subscription, with the modality called Blockchain as a Service (BaaS).
This includes plans whose prices vary between $ 100 and $ 10,000 depending on the size of the provider and the services required by the network.
"It does not imply investment of technological infrastructure, the idea of this is to be simple and accessible so that it can be adopted by a small producer and installed by him," Murano explains.
The board adds that this type of solution has a lot of potential in the local market due to the importance of Argentina as a producer and exporter of groceries.
"We export products to different parts of the world, markets that demand traceability, offering it is a kind of quality certification, it's a differential," IBM's board of directors argues.
For the consumer, knowing the traceability of the food guarantees the quality of the products that it acquires. You can know what ingredients a particular product has, how it was grown or processed, where it was handled and what methods were used.
The list of advantages offered by blockchain to the food industry is immense. Some of the most important are the following:
• Track products safely in seconds
• Combat cross-contamination and the spread of diseases
• Promote smart and efficient shipment of groceries
• Avoid the waste of food
Of course it will depend on the maturity of its protagonists that the technology achieves or not the impact it is capable of generating in the lives of people.