How blockchain can change the food industry
Chris Copenhaver and Ken Reiff, Opinion, FoodDive
April 9, 2019
Chris Copenhaver and Ken Reiff are co-leaders of Cushman & Wakefield’s Food & Beverage Advisory group. They specialize in helping clients navigate the unique challenges faced by the food and beverage sector.
Everyone cringes when there is a food recall on the news or an alert in the checkout line. Lately, everything from romaine lettuce and ground turkey to processed snacks and even dog food have been recalled. The list goes on and on.
Whether it is for consumer health safety, like listeria, or simply product mislabeling, recalls are a detriment to a company’s financial stability, brand confidence and most importantly, the health of its consumers. Considering that the E. coli outbreak in lettuce last spring sickened 62 people across 16 states and resulted in a roughly $70 million loss in year-over-year romaine sales, food producers, government agencies, tech companies and even commercial real estate advisors are all focused on how to make the food supply chain safer.
Blockchain and food
If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: food safety is not just a food issue; it’s also a supply chain issue. But, thanks to advances in technology, people are beginning to learn how the issue can be contained.
Beyond imposing stricter regulations in farming and food processing practices, one of the most promising answers to increasing food safety is blockchain. Blockchain is a list of records linked together into what is essentially a digital ledger. Imagine a block that holds a piece of information that is saved to a database in the cloud. This block is linked to other blocks of data to form a chain that represents a series of actions. The chain can’t be altered, meaning the data is secure and easy to verify.
When it comes to food, blockchain is used by food producers and retailers to track items from field to fork. The blockchain record typically starts at harvest or sometimes even with the seed. For example, a container of apples may travel through the supply chain to your grocery store via trucks, ships, air freight and so on. Along the way, the container is scanned every time it changes transportation modes, stops for a period, passes through ports or customs or gets stored in a warehouse. Basically, any time the container is touched or moved, a block is added to the chain.
This type of data tracking doesn’t only apply to fresh produce. Blockchain can be used to track ingredients that go into processed foods like cereal and yogurt. It can also be used to track meat, dairy and egg products. Last Thanksgiving, Jennie-O Turkey and Honeysuckle White used blockchain to allow consumers to trace a turkey back to its home farm. More than just a non-political conversation starter for the Thanksgiving table, the “Turkey Tracker” provided consumers with a history of the bird and, for some, piece of mind as to where it originated.
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