An outbreak of E. Coli and Salmonella in romaine lettuce earlier this year has forced Walmart and Sam’s Club to reconsider their method of making sure the food that they sell is safe to eat. Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control warned Americans of consuming greens grown in Yuma, Arizona, which they found to be the origin of the contamination, and grocers had to throw away a large amount of lettuce to avoid putting their customers in danger.
“But it was difficult for consumers to know how to determine where their lettuce was grown. None of the bags of salad had ‘Yuma, Arizona’ on them,” explained Frank Yiannas, VP of Food Safety at Walmart. “In the future, using the technology we’re requiring, a customer could potentially scan a bag of salad and know with certainty where it came from.”
The technology he is referring to involves blockchain and will allow them to easily trace their products all the way back to the farm. The new system will allow grocers to track down contamination soon after they hear of an issue. The current paper-based method is cumbersome and time-consuming, sometimes not allowing the food safety team to confirm where a product came from for a whole week. That’s plenty of time for the contamination to become widespread.
“The food system is absolutely too large for any single entity to [track],” said Yiannas. “We’ve been working with IBM to digitize that, so the information is captured on the farm with a handheld system. It’s [also] captured at the packing house at the supplier.” Blockchain will completely change this process by speeding up every step that it takes identify and diffuse a food safety crisis.
Blockchain is a technology that relies on community accountability and verification, and the public nature of the information within the blockchain makes it difficult to compromise. It’s a secure way to store data and allows for easy access to its contents. The Centers for Disease Control recognizes the technology as a way to strengthen their current methods of protection and prevention against food safety issues.
“Customers trust us to help them put quality food on their tables for themselves and their families,” said Charles Redfield, executive vice president of food for Walmart U.S. “We have to go further than offering great food at an everyday low price. Our customers need to know they can trust us to help ensure that food is safe. These new requirements will help us do just that.”