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Solving the problem of Foodborne diseases with Blockchain Technology

| The European | 27 September 2018

Foodborne diseases are a global problem. The World Health Organisation (WHO) last year published that an estimated 600 million (almost 1 in 10 people in the world) fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 people die every year due to foodborne diseases.


The global population is increasing. At the same time, new varieties of food items are constantly being introduced to the global food supply chain. This has made the task of maintaining a complete track of food supplies difficult.


Lots of time and effort are required to identify, verify and isolate the source of disease in the food supply chain. Thanks to Blockchain technology, this task has now been made easy.


Food manufacturers and suppliers of food items are adopting Blockchain technology at a rapid pace. The forerunner in developing the Blockchain-based food supply chain solution is IBM. It has developed a solution named “IBM Food Trust”.


IBM Food Trust is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that helps increase food safety for all network participants, including growers, processors, shippers, retailers, and regulators. The IBM Food Trust network provides authorized users with immediate access to actionable food supply chain data, from farm to store. The complete history and current location of any individual food item, as well as its “stock keeping unit” (SKU), is readily available at the click of a button.


IBM Food Trust employs the security benefits of the underlying Hyperledger Fabric Blockchain technology. Hyperledger Fabric guarantees the legitimacy and permanence of network transactions and features a thoroughly “permissioned” network. The owner of the data controls who can see it on the network. Every transaction on IBM Blockchain Platform can be made accessible to:

All network participants

  1. Only supply chain partners
  2. Only directly referenced supply chain partners
  3. Only Internal members of the organisation

All transactions are directly traceable to a registered user, and anonymous transactions are not permitted.


IBM requires that companies that are interested in its solution should join its Food Trust program. Initial members were Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart.


Once an enterprise has joined and on-boarded the IBM Food Trust solution, its (human) user and (systems of engagement) SOE user accounts can interact with the network.


IBM Food Trust solution contains the following features:


  • User-friendly interfaces for desktop or mobile users can be designed by the companies to suit their corporate environment
  • The certificate management module can be used to upload regulation and inspection documents for sharing with food supply chain partners
  • A customised interface can be designed to view and manage data that has been shared by business partners
  • It can quickly locate items from the supply chain, in real time, by querying food product identifiers such as Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) or Global Location Number (GLN), and by filtering on dates or facilities


For any company that is engaged in Food business, contamination of their food supply is not the only worry. The actual problem is to segregate safe products from contaminated products. Uninformed decisions that result in a recall of even those items that are safe cause business loss.


The Trace module of IBM Food Security solution enables member organisations to quickly and accurately determine the path that a given shipment has taken. Authorised participants can then determine the scope of the problem, block further contamination, and narrow the scope and impact of a recall. The end result is increased trust and safety for all participants in the food ecosystem.


However, the prerequisite for using the IBM Food Trust solution to trace and recall food products is that data—on both food assets and participants—has been uploaded to the network. Once data is available, the trace and recall module allows a search to be conducted at any level of the network’s unified data pool. This enables food product data, including location and status across multiple points in time, to be queried and accessed by authorised users. Variables that users can search range from the general (region or country of origin, for example, or month of production) to the specific (such as the GTIN, batch or lot number of a particular food component).


From the Certificates module, relevant certifications can be checked on a regular schedule, or as they are needed during a safety investigation. Conflicting or outdated certificates can be easily flagged for review, which serves both suppliers who require certification to do business and buyers who want to know the certification status of a sourcing farm or factory.


A report on Forbes’ website (from 11 July 2018) quotes Ramesh Gopinath, VP of Blockchain Solutions at IBM.


“Food fraud costs the global food industry between $10 and $15 billion annually and we have seen instances in the past where non-organic products were passed off as organic, while various meats were indeed not what consumers thought they were. There is a massive opportunity to combat this industry problem with technology such as Blockchain.”


The same report states that there are more than 350,000 food data transactions on the IBM Food Trust platform.



The confidence of IBM Blockchain Team and trust reposed in them by Food industry giants speaks volumes about the future of Blockchain Technology’s use in combating foodborne diseases. There is no denying to the fact that the future holds good promise for the clean and hygienic supply of food items.

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