September 27, 2018 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Blockchain, the decentralized technology that distributes digital information using cryptography, may be widely known for serving as the base of Bitcoin. But now, the same technology is helping companies to save your salad.

No, really.

Grocery giants and food producers around the globe are using blockchain to help prevent food contamination, using innovation to keep consumers safe. Needless to say, this approach to food safety is changing how we see blockchain, giving us a better idea of how many people we can help when we’re allowed to create freely.

But blockchain is not being used just for safety. In some cases, grocery giants are using blockchain to connect with their own customers.

Walmart and IBM have been working together on a new blockchain solution for food safety, making it easier for suppliers to identify contamination hot spots and quickly stop the supply to consumers as a result. Now, the grocery chain is requiring that all its lettuce suppliers use the technology, uploading data on the leafy green vegetable to the blockchain.  

Through IBM Food Trust Solution, each node on the blockchain represents an institution that handled the item before it makes its way to the store. Through a fully digital process, suppliers are able to easily trace issues such as an E. coli outbreak and keep it from spreading by identifying where it took place.

“We built the IBM Food Trust solution using IBM Blockchain Platform, which is a tool or capability that IBM has built to help companies build, govern and run blockchain networks,” IBM’s senior VP for Global Industries, Platforms, and Blockchain Bridget van Kralingen explained. “It’s built using Hyperledger Fabric (the open source digital ledger technology) and it runs on IBM Cloud.”

According to Walmart spokesperson, Molly Blakeman, IBM worked hard to simplify the adaptation process. As such, all suppliers have to do is learn how to upload data onto the blockchain.

“IBM will offer an onboarding system that orients users with the service easily. Think about when you get a new iPhone — the instructions are easy to understand and you’re quickly up and running. That’s the aim here. Essentially, suppliers will need a smart device and internet to participate,” she explained.

Thanks to this approach to using technology to help prevent outbreaks, the process of spotting an issue and stopping it before people are hurt will now take only 2.2 seconds, whereas in the past, it took about seven days for suppliers to trace the source of contaminated food. As you can imagine, the use of this technology will effectively shield consumers from gaining access to infected lettuce.

While Walmart’s concern stems from a recent E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce that affected more than 200 people, blockchain could be used to secure other products such as cereal and eggs.

“There is no question that there is a strong public-health and business-case for enhanced food traceability,” Walmart stated in its announcement.

As Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft also work on their own blockchain innovations, this is, by far, one of the earliest and most groundbreaking uses for the technology announced recently, showing us that innovation is literally saving our lives.

What this is about is what is called provenance, which is the definitive establishment and documentation of who has owned what and where it has been. This is the foundation contribution of blockchain, to prove provenance better than any other technology in history.

But as Walmart uses blockchain to avoid illnesses, other companies are using it for other purposes.

From Fake Honey To Building Relationships

Food 4 Less, a Kroger company, is using blockchain to create better and stronger relationships with its customers.

Partnering with the California-based open blockchain platform Greenfence Consumer, the grocery chain will provide soccer fans with exclusive collectible content that, thanks to blockchain technology, is secure from duplication and theft, making it truly unique.

The marketing campaign offers Food 4 Less customers a series of coupons, GFT Authentic Digital Collectibles, and rebates all powered through blockchain. Through this launch, the grocery chain will be able to build a stronger relationship with its customers who are also soccer fans.

“When we knew that [Major League Soccer] would be expanding to Los Angeles with the LAFC, we really thought it was a great opportunity for us to embrace the team and the fanatical soccer community,” Food 4 Less’ customer communications manager Eddie Vasquez told reporters.

Because the games and prizes associated with the campaign can be traded and shared safely among participants thanks to blockchain, the company believes the experience will be particularly exciting to consumers. In the meantime, other blockchain companies are working on the other side of the world to help Australian consumers with their honey issues.

Local media reported recently that 28 brands of honey produced in Australia had failed purity tests, proving that companies have been mixing other sweeteners to the product while selling it as pure honey. In order to help consumers make better, more educated decisions about their honey, Israeli firm Security Matters is using blockchain technology to better track the honey supply chain.

The innovative system tracks honey at a molecular level, introducing a mark that can be used with any gas, solid, or liquid and that is completely immutable. Like a barcode, it remains intact, giving any product holding that mark a guaranteed seal of quality.

“Every part of the product in the chain will have been marked and verified by the time it reaches the end customer,”  Security Matters CEO, Haggai Alon, said. “This creates full liability to each of the individual players.”

With this technology helping trace honey products in Australia, the country’s producers hoping to prove they sell the real deal will have a golden opportunity to do so efficiently. Much like Walmart is doing with lettuce suppliers, honey producers can now use technology to secure their product and protect their customers in the process.

When government has a strong grip on how members of a certain industry must go about their business, the added regulatory burden creates restrictions and barriers to entry that make it impossible for competition to thrive. Blockchain is now a reality because of the freedom made possible by the unleashed growth of the internet.

Can you imagine how much innovation we would see in other industries if government dared to simply get out of the way?

Chloe Anagnos

Chloe Anagnos

Chloe Anagnos is a writer and digital marketer and has been an AIER contributor since 2017. Her work has been the subject of articles in FOX News, USA Today, CNN Money, and WIRED. She has been a writer, commentator, and panelist for media outlets around the country on subjects like political marketing, campaigning, and social media. Follow @ChloeAnagnos.

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