Thursday 20th Sep, 2018

Blockchain, logistics and food safety


By Pieter Vandevelde 

GLOBALISATION has opened up countless avenues for trade and production, yet food safety is still a leading concern and efficiency gains are failing to meet global demand. Blockchain technology is now needed to build stronger, safer and more resilient supply chains.

Every year in Australia there is an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning, resulting in 31,920 hospitalisations and 86 deaths. Since 2008, the statutory body Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have coordinated an average of 63 calls a year.

In March of this year, five Australians sadly died and seventeen made ill after consuming rockmelons contaminated with listeria. Although the farm responsible was named, consumer confidence was shattered and melon farmers have called the outbreak a national disaster that will devastate the industry for years to come.

Aussie farming families are losing their livelihoods. They are being forced to lay off staff and scrap entire melon crops as demand for melons nationally plummeted by 90%, while export markets in Indonesia, Singapore and the UAE were closed temporarily.

Transparency in the supply chain

When contamination breaks out, unclear record-keeping and insufficient traceability methods mean that companies can take days or even weeks to find the source of an infection. It also means that instead of recalling only liable products or batches, all produce along the supply chain is affected.

The FSANZ requires all businesses engaged in the wholesale supply, manufacture or importation of food must have recall systems in place. These businesses must maintain up-to-date records of where every batch of their product has been supplied, including any unique identifiers and the details of volumes dispatched.

Paper records are no longer a secure way to store valuable data and are riddled with inaccuracies. They also do not provide a holistic understanding of where and how problems occur, as access to each other’s information is limited and sharing takes time.

For this reason, end-to-end transparency and traceability is critical to ensure that response times to contaminations are minimised and overall food safety measures are improved. This can be done using blockchain technology, as businesses can track in a matter of seconds which farm supplied the problematic produce, who packaged it, and on which store shelf it now sits.

Blockchain technology is the digitisation of supply chain records, with all participants, from producers, distributors, suppliers and retailers, sharing and contributing their track and trace data to a shared ledger. Any participant can contribute to and access the ledger, but never tamper with it.

Every single item for sale can be assigned a cryptographically unique identifier at the start of the food value chain at the farms, growers and processors. This unique, strongly encrypted code can then be entered into the shared data ledger and the entire life journey of a product – from paddock to plate – can be accessed on the blockchain archive. This streamlined process will mean any issues with unsafe food items can be detected swiftly and resolved within a matter of hours.

This technology asks businesses across the entire supply chain to collaborate and share information, and it is this transparency that will ultimately benefit consumers who will also be able to check the complete history of every product through a free app.

Making food safer and logistics smarter

Blockchain is facilitating growing efficiency and cost reductions across all procedures in food safety. In the United States, the Sanitary Food Transport Act now requires the collection of many data points across the supply chain. Integrating blockchain technology with Internet of Things (IoT) devices is the best way to do this.

There are many examples of IoT devices that can be used for food safety measures, including handheld mobiles that scan pallets and capture geo-data, temperature and humidity sensors that document real-time transportation data, and bacterial sensors that can analyse soil.

Advanced labelling and packaging solutions can also take chemical fingerprints, detect decaying meat, monitor bacterial growth and detect other anomalies.

Blockchain technology also has built-in redundancy, as transactions on the blockchain can be verified, processed and logged independently by multiple nodes across the chain. This means no individual node is crucial to the database system as a whole – without a central administrator, any blockchain node which goes down can always catch up on transactions they missed.

It is clear that using blockchain technology for the food supply chain is crucial for the future of food safety. It will help every company closely track each item on the supply chain, ensuring that their products are safe and fresh before reaching their consumers.

Pieter Vandevelde is the Chief Revenue Officer of TBSx3, a blockchain-based manufacturing, distribution and logistics solution company that aims to innovate and restore trust in the global supply chain network.

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