Tag Archives: blockchain

Mike Robach

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Cargill’s Mike Robach

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mike Robach

Continuing on our journey to bring you the successes, best practices, challenges and accomplishments from the very best in this industry, this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill. Mike joined Cargill in January 2004 to lead the company’s corporate food safety and regulatory affairs programs. In this role, he helps partners innovate and manage risk so they can feel empowered to nourish the world

Mike Robach
Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill

Mike has also worked closely with the USDA and FDA regarding food safety policy, HACCP, and regulatory reform based on science. He serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the International Association of Food Protection, among many other organizations dedicated to ensuring safe food and bringing innovative technology into the agricultural industry. He has worked with the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on harmonized animal health and food safety standards.

Mahni Ghorashi: What are the biggest risks to our food safety infrastructure in 2018? What’s keeping you up at night?

Mike Robach: The biggest risks I see have to do with supply chain integrity and how companies implement their systems. Too often we do not have line-of-sight to the origin of the commodities and ingredients that make up our products. With global supply networks it’s important to understand where and from whom you are getting your inputs. There is also a need for food safety capacity building throughout the global food system. Many small and medium companies, along with some large companies, do not have the proper training for their employees to manage a food safety program. We also have an issue with constantly changing regulations that are not uniform from country to country, adding risk to our business.

Ghorashi: What are you most excited about? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?

Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace. Blockchain technology gives us the chance to drive greater transparency throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: Let’s talk about regulation. How is the implementation of FSMA going? Do you foresee any challenges with the next phase of implementation?

Check out last month’s Q&A with Frank Yiannas of WalmartRobach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.

Ghorashi: If you take a look at the homepage of Food Safety News, all you see is recall after recall. Are transparency and technological advancement bringing more risks to light and are things generally trending towards improvement?

Robach: I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: What is the number one challenge of securing global supply chains for 2018?

Robach: Knowing and understanding the integrated supply chain. Having knowledge and control of the process from origination to consumption would be ideal. We need the implementation of risk-based, harmonized food safety management systems based on the principles of Codex. Assuring the application of these systems along with properly trained employees to implement these programs would be the first step towards a secure, safe global food system.

Ghorashi: How do international trade deals and the stance of the current administration affect the future of food safety policy?

Robach: International trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and NAFTA can do a lot for the assurance of safe food around the world and within regions. Making sure that food safety provisions are included in these trade deals can drive the implementation of food safety management systems that will ensure safe food for consumers everywhere. These types of deals should allow us to remove technical barriers to trade by basing the requirements on Codex principles and adhering to the WTO SPS agreement.

Ghorashi: What role is blockchain technology playing in food safety? What are the prospects for the future?

Robach: Blockchain has a role to play in driving more transparency across the integrated supply chain. It can allow companies to show consumers where their food comes from. It can also be used to quickly trace back product in the event of a food safety problem. Still, it’s an enabling technology, not a solution.

Ghorashi: What about CRISPR? How is the food industry starting to respond to this technology from both a policy and GMO screening?

Robach: Gene editing holds great promise and many companies are looking at its potential benefits. However, there is always the policy question on whether or not the use of this type of technology should be labeled. I think the food industry has not done enough to promote the use of technology and how food production has improved over the years. We should let consumers know how we apply science to making food safer, more nutritious and more sustainable. At Cargill we have the vision of being the leader in nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

Ghorashi: What trends are you seeing in food safety processes within food companies? Are they becoming more decentralized? Less? How are they balancing innovation with decades-old food safety practices?

Robach: Through the Global Food Safety Initiative, we have promoted harmonized, risk-based food safety management systems. The GFSI-benchmarked certification programs provide an opportunity for companies to implement consistent food safety programs regardless of where they are in the world. Through the GFSI Global Market Program there’s a tool kit that less sophisticated companies can use as a pathway towards full certification. We are constantly updating the benchmarking requirements to assure they are keeping up with changing science and technology.

Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

On the heels of the deadly, widespread outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce—and 12 years after the infamous spinach outbreak of 2006—the food industry is struggling to find the solution to prevent these outbreaks. “I think it’s indicative that we need to do something different,” said Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development & innovation at GS1 US, during a panel discussion about blockchain at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference earlier this month. The panel, led by Darin Detwiler, assistant dean and director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, delved into the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain, along with industry readiness and acceptance.

In its most basic form, the technology would allow for the addition of information from every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to packaging to distribution to retail, and would incorporate elements such as auditing, inspection, batch information, certification of auditors, preventive control plans, HACCP information, and allergen identification.

“Blockchain could be the death of the document.” Simon Batters, Lloyd’s Register

Strengths

The increased demand for transparency and traceability could be one of the biggest drivers for the adoption of blockchain. “[Blockchain] offers us the technology for traceability,” said Simon Batters, vice president of technology solutions at Lloyd’s Register. “It allows us to have an immutable record of a transaction; it won’t solve the food safety conundrum overnight—it’s part of the tool kit that we need.”

The fact that the food supply chain consists of millions of transactions, which could not be tampered with under blockchain, while the data could be used as reference points and for verification—those are strengths. However, Batters pointed out, there should be restrictions on who has permission to write the code and who has access to putting the information into a chain.

The technology would also enable smart contracts whereby shipments wouldn’t be finalized if they didn’t meet the conditions of a supplier, for example. “All parties to a transaction have a view to the entire chain at the same time,” said Nuce. “You have real time visibility. This democratizes that.”

Kathleen Wybourn, director, food safety solutions at DNV Business Assurance, calls blockchain “the birth certificate for food.” From a consumer standpoint, it would provide information on a product’s origin—and these days, consumers—especially millennials—are very interested in the story of food from farm to fork.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
The blockchain panel, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV Business Assurance; Simon Batters,
Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Weaknesses and Threats

The panel pointed out several areas of improvement (and unknowns that must be answered) before blockchain can be taken to the next level in the food industry.

  • Although the technology could aid in faster transaction times, as the size of the ledger gets larger, and it will become more difficult to manage.
  • Industry involvement: “If you don’t get 100% participation, it’s not going to be successful,” Nuce said. “To have true trace back, everyone has to participate.”
  • Blockchain platforms: Will they be able to interact and share data? What type of blockchain architecture is necessary for this?
  • Poor architecture
  • Need a better grasp on the type of data being used and how it delivers value
  • What impact will it have on the role of certification bodies?
  • Politics and the competitive element: Will certain parties seek to control this space?
  • Will the culture shift be a roadblock?
Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
Read Melanie Nuce’s column, Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

Final Thoughts from the Panel

“Nobody can really tell where this is going to go in the future. I think it’s going to be part of food safety in their roles in one shape or form…I think we’ll see more of where this is headed within the next 12–18 months.” – Kathy Wybourn

“I think it’s going to be a fast-moving dynamic area.”– Simon Batters, who suggested that the organizations that embrace blockchain early may be the ones who show the way

“From an information/standards perspective, you have to have foundational business processes to support any type of technology. That’s what we’ve learned through the pilots.” – Melanie Nuce

“It’s not going to make a company any more ethical… a lot of what we need already exists out there; blockchain is just a tool out there. I keep warning people that this is not the only solution.” – Darin Detwiler

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain

Beyond Supply Chain Trends: Blockchain, FSMA, Food Fraud, Audits and More

By Maria Fontanazza
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2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Rick Biros, Priya Rathnam, and Andrew Seaborn, 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Priya Rathnam (middle) pictured with Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing (left) and Andrew Seaborn Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, Division of Import Operations, ORA, FDA

How well do you know your suppliers? Can you trust your supplier’s suppliers? What kind of technology are you using to assess and ensure your suppliers are in compliance with regulatory requirements? These are common questions food companies must ask themselves on a regular basis. These and more were addressed at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, held last week at USP in Rockville, MD. Stay tuned for coverage of the event in upcoming articles. In the meantime, here are some top insights shared by FDA and others in industry.

“We’ve issued a limited number of warning letters (two), and they were due to really egregious issues. Where there were previously warning letters issued, we’re seeing a lot more ‘regulatory meetings’.” – Priya Rathnam, Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, CFSAN, on FDA’s enforcement this fiscal year.

Criteria for FSMA auditors also includes the “soft skills”, aka ISO 19011, auditor personal attributes. –Josh Grauso, Senior Manager, Food Safety & Quality System Audits, UL

Fabien Robert, Nestle 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Food fraud costs the industry up to $15 billion annually. – Fabien Robert, Ph.D., Director, Nestle Zone America

It’s concerning that so many QA managers (and other pros) today don’t know extent of risk assessment they need to carry out. – Chris Domenico, Safefood360, Territory Manager for North America

“Blockchain is more than a buzzword at the moment.”- Simon Batters, Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
A dynamic panel about blockchain, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV Business Assurance; Simon Batters,Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Sometimes food safety doesn’t win; sometimes you need the business acumen to show that implementing supply chain efficiencies will create the win. – Gina Kramer, Executive Director, Savour Food Safety International

Bryan Cohn, 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Building a robust & smart supply chain = reduce food miles, shrink carbon footprint, and save food waste to increase revenue/acre. – Bryan Cohn, Vice President of Operations, Seal the Seasons

The FSMA Sanitary transportation rule is not as straightforward as you think. We need more training. – Cathy Crawford, President, HACCP Consulting Group

Frank Yiannas, Walmart

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Walmart’s Frank Yiannas

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Frank Yiannas, Walmart

Continuing on our journey to bring you the successes, best practices, challenges and accomplishments from the very best in this industry, this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart. In his role, Frank oversees all food safety, as well as other public health functions, for the world’s largest food retailer, serving more than 200 million customers around the world on a weekly basis.

Frank is a past president of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) and a past vice-chair of GFSI. He is also an adjunct professor in the Food Safety Program at Michigan State University, and in 2017 was awarded the MSU Outstanding Faculty Award. He’s also the author of two books, Food Safety Culture, Creating a Behavior-based Food Safety Management System, and Food Safety = Behavior, 30 Proven Techniques to Enhance Employee Compliance.

Mahni Ghorashi: What are you most excited about in our industry? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?

Frank Yiannas, Walmart
Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety, Walmart

Frank Yiannas: While there is no doubt that there are numerous new and emerging challenges in food safety, the many advancements being made should give us hope that we can create a safer, more efficient, and sustainable food system.

There is progress being made on many fronts: Whole genome sequencing is becoming more accessible; new tools are being developed for fraud detection; and FSMA is introducing stringent public-health surveillance measures that have dramatic implications for U.S. retailers and suppliers and our import partners.

Most importantly, consumers are now overwhelmingly interested in transparency. People today are further removed from how food is grown, produced and transported than at any other time in human history. Plus, they increasingly mistrust food and food companies due to the food outbreaks and scares we have faced in recent years.

Over the near-term, as we get better at detecting foodborne outbreaks, consumer mistrust will likely intensify; however, it’s clear to me that heightened consumer interest is hugely positive because it adds weight to our industry’s call for more accurate food labeling, more wholesome ingredients and enhanced food traceability. Ultimately, these are the kinds of measures that will improve the food system and enhance consumer trust.

Ghorashi: As you know, food shopping is moving online. It’s happening across the world, and at breakneck speed. What are retailers like Walmart doing to keep up?

Yiannas: That’s a great question. Walmart and other retailers are now developing new packaging materials and temperature control approaches, as well as new ordering methods, high-tech stocking systems and delivery modes.

Food shopping is moving online so quickly that regulatory requirements have not been able to keep up. That means it’s up to us, the retailers and food companies, to work with regulators to create and promote the necessary industry standards, best practices and logistical solutions.

I firmly believe that it is our responsibility as food retailers to advocate for consumers and strive to create a safer and more affordable and sustainable food system. With many more players across the global food chain now shouldering this duty of care, I am very optimistic that our industry is truly improving the lives of people around the world.

Ghorashi: What role is blockchain technology playing in food safety? What are the prospects for the future?

Yiannas: The emergence of blockchain technology and the successful completion of several pilots using it to enhance food traceability has resulted in a larger conversation about the importance of creating a more transparent digital food system.

It has also enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability at the speed of thought. The ongoing U.S.-wide romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak showed us, once again, that our traditional paper-based food tracking system is no longer adequate for the 21st century. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.

Blockchain has the potential to shine a light on all actors in the food system. This enhanced transparency will result in greater accountability, and greater accountability will cause the food system to self-regulate and comply with the safe and sustainable practices that we all desire.

Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
FST Soapbox

Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

By Melanie Nuce
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Melanie Nuce, GS1 US

Over the course of the past two years, blockchain has shown promise across nearly every industry—far beyond the confines of its cryptocurrency origins. The food industry is no exception, with key stakeholders like Walmart, Cargill, Tyson, Coca-Cola and Starbucks all announcing pilot programs this year.

 Melanie Nuce and other industry experts will participate in a blockchain panel discussion at this year’s Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Learn moreAlthough blockchain has tremendous potential to speed up food recalls and enable the information transparency that consumers demand, there are important building blocks that must be in place before planning a blockchain implementation. Test your blockchain knowledge with these statements below to see if you can separate fact from fiction. Armed with the right information, you’ll be able to better understand the value of blockchain and how it fits into an entire ecosystem of data sharing before jumping immediately to its application.

Blockchain is basically a shared database. This is true. While it’s no secret that shared databases have benefits, what makes blockchain special is that it is a distributed and immutable ledger. There is no single point of failure in a distributed ledger—it is a consensus of replicated and synchronized digital data geographically spread across multiple sites. This decentralized structure makes the data resilient to a technology or organizational failure.

Blockchain also supports “smart” supply chain contracts, meaning an automated execution of terms, conditions and business rules. Through this feature, trading partners can automatically enforce terms and conditions as previously defined, eliminating the errors and inefficiencies associated with the current manual processes based on legacy systems. A trading partner is prevented from writing a business transaction to the blockchain ledger that is outside of the rules specified in the smart contract. For retail grocery, this means far fewer item substitutions, more certainty around what is being shipped and when, and fewer discrepancies downstream.

GS1 US
Image courtesy of GS1 US

Blockchain will do for the supply chain what email did for communication. This is also true—but Rome wasn’t built in a day. It will take time for blockchain to become a ubiquitous technology on par with email, and it is likely another decade away. However, given the amount of pilot programs underway, and the commitment from technology providers like IBM, Microsoft, and SAP to develop blockchain enterprise programs, many industry analysts believe blockchain will breakthrough to start to solve business process challenges in the next three to five years.

Purchasing blockchain software is all you need to create a traceability program. This is completely false! Industry stakeholders already leverage GS1 Standards, which enable traceability by ensuring all trading partners communicate in a uniform manner. Standards ensure systems interoperability, and provide a singular approach to creating, sharing and maintaining product information that supports, at the very least, “one up/one down” visibility of the product’s movement through the distribution channel. The internal data and processes a company uses to track products is integrated into a larger system of external data exchange that takes place between trading partners. Blockchain represents an opportunity for traceability to move faster—smart contracts and immutable ledgers expedite the flow of data between supply chain partners.

Blockchain can reduce food recalls from weeks to minutes. This is true, but only with a food traceability program already in place. Traceability has been achievable without blockchain, and many leading retailers have a long history working with farmers, distributors and processors on effective food traceability programs in order to assure consumers of food safety. Product recalls are significantly faster with standards in place to help break down any barriers caused by proprietary numbering systems and manual business processes.

Ultimately, now is the time to stay educated on blockchain and follow its development closely to uncover its many opportunities.

For more details on blockchain in the food supply chain, attend the blockchain panel discussion at this year’s Food Safety Supply Chain Management Conference, on June 13 at 8:30. I will be joined by Kathleen Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV Business Assurance, and Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University for a realistic discussion of blockchain’s ability to boost the food supply chain.

Stephen Ostroff, 2016 Food Safety Consortium

Blockchain Transformational, Says Ostroff. FDA Updates on Pathogens, FSMA, WGS and More

By Maria Fontanazza
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Stephen Ostroff, 2016 Food Safety Consortium

Stephen Ostroff, M.D. deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, sounds excited about the promise of blockchain. He also continues to enthusiastically wave the flag for whole genome sequencing (WGS) in solving foodborne illness cases. At the recent GMA Science Forum, Ostroff shared his usual update on incidents involving pathogens, agency progress in inspections and FSMA, and what the future holds.

The 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference features a Blockchain panel discussion | June 12–13 | Learn morePathogens

“There’s been essentially zero change in incidents of pathogens, and in some [cases there have been] increases—despite the fact that we’ve been doing quite a bit to improve the profile of food safety in the United States,” said Ostroff. This isn’t the first time that Ostroff pointed to the fact that foodborne illness is resistant to change, but he still emphasized the disappointment that industry is “way off” from the Healthy People 2020 target rate for pathogens established by the government. “None of these are close to where we thought we would be,” he said, referring to the government’s established target rates for Campylobacter, E.coli O157, Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio and Yersinia.

Ostroff has previously pointed to improved diagnostics and surveillance systems as being partially responsible for a lack of improvement in the number of foodborne illness cases (due to higher detection rates), but during this particular presentation he brought attention to culture independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs)—which he said are having a “major impact on data collected in FoodNet.” CIDT is relatively new and is more rapid than the culture method, but it doesn’t allow for subtyping or antimicrobial resistance testing.

According to Ostroff, CIDTs have major implications for folks who work in food safety. The overall incidence of infection with foodborne pathogens is not decreasing, and the use of CIDTs makes assessment of trends difficult. CIDTs appear to be finding infections previously undiagnosed or unrecognized. In addition, they could affect the agency’s ability to monitor FSMA impact measures.

Inspections

The agency continues to look at inspection data from both the perspective of the number of inspections and their outcomes. During FY 2017, there were 1253 domestic and 146 foreign inspections. For FY 2018, there have already been 1610 domestic inspections to date.

Enforcement Discretion

In January, FDA issued new enforcement discretion for certain provisions in four FSMA rules. This included resolving issues related to the “farm” definition, requirements for food contact substances under FSVP, and certain written assurances in place for the Preventive Controls (human and animal) rule until FDA comes up with a practical solution to issues raised by stakeholders, Ostroff said.

Oversight of Food Imports

FDA continues to take a risk-based approach to FSVP and overseas inspections. Part of these efforts includes the agency’s systems recognition program where it looks at other mature food safety systems around the world to recognize countries that have programs similar to the United States. Thus far FDA has recognized Australia, Canada and New Zealand food safety systems; It is currently in the process of evaluating European Union members.

Intentional Adulteration Rule

The International Adulteration rule continues to be a hot topic of discussion, especially as it relates to associated costs. FDA is actively working on putting out a draft guidance that will discuss how to conduct vulnerability assessments, along with its interpretation of the rule, according to Ostroff. Part one of the draft should be out “in the very near future”, he said. He added that the agency is trying to be flexible with the rule and although food defense is an important component of food safety, companies should never do anything in the context of food defense that could pose a food safety risk.

Whole Genome Sequencing

WGS provides more precise identification at a genetic level and helps expedite recognition and response time for nearly all current foodborne illness and outbreak investigations. “It’s the new normal—it’s here and it’s here big time,” said Ostroff, adding that the GenomeTrakr network has more than 167,000 isolates sequences in the database and is becoming more and more powerful. “It’s amazing what this tool can do,” he said, citing two recent cases involving strains of Salmonella in papayas and kratom.

Blockchain

“I think blockchain can be really transformational in the world of food safety,” said Ostroff, calling it “traceability on steroids without question”. He thinks the technology could also be useful in addressing food fraud and economically motivated adulteration, and provide more consumer transparency. Right now the FDA is looking very closely at blockchain in context of traceability and FSMA.

DNVGL MyStory, blockchain

MyStory: DNV GL’s Blockchain Labels Tell It All

DNVGL MyStory, blockchain

Italian wine makers are the first to use DNV GL’s blockchain solution MyStory, which allows consumers “to have instant and in-depth access to key products characteristics such as quality, authenticity, origin, ingredients, water and energy consumption and more, all verified by DNV GL along the entire transformation process,” says DNV GL’s Business Assurance CEO Luca Crisciotti. By scanning a QR-code, consumers can see the full history of the product and its journey from grape to bottle.

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Could Blockchain Technology Drive FSVP Compliance?

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

From farm to fork, food produced today goes through more hands than ever before. A greater number of players in the production of even a single product could increase that the risk for foodborne illness. Not only do companies need to check incoming and outgoing products from their own facilities, but they also need to consider whether products that they are importing from other countries are compliant with local regulations, and whether the products that they are exporting are compliant with the regulations of the destination country.

The current traceability standard of “one step forward, one step back’”is less and less suited for the current global marketplace, and governments are demanding more. Handling all this information is a challenge for food producers of all sizes, around the world.

Taking Traceability Global with FSVP

Needless to say, with 600 million people contracting foodborne illnesses every year, there is a dire need for food traceability and transparency in the food supply chain. If and when something goes wrong, traceability gives oversight agencies greater visibility investigating the root causes of an outbreak to prevent further risk to the public. It also allows companies to minimize the financial impact of a recall if they are able to pinpoint exactly which lot numbers of their products are affected.

In response to the changes in the food industry, in 2011 the USFDA introduced FSMA to implement a more proactive food safety regulatory system. With FSMA came the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP), which basically extends FSMA regulations to companies supplying food to the United States. All U.S. importers are now required to monitor and manage their foreign suppliers through six steps of hazard analysis, record keeping and more. Given the complexity of the global food supply chain, this is by no means an easy undertaking and it is clear that technology is crucial to achieving this granular level of data management alone. Blockchain technology, however, might be the answer to this problem—and many other related ones.

What is Blockchain Technology?

Evolving from the digital financial world, blockchains are distributed databases that build a growing chain of ordered records, called blocks. This means that any type of information can be stored in a chronological, consistent and secure way; even if multiple users are involved, it is extremely difficult to alter a blockchain.

Since any information on the blockchain is shared with all of its users, they can view any transactions made historically and in real-time. Theoretically, this could allow authorities to pinpoint food problems within minutes, when previously it would take days, potentially saving many lives in the process.

Blockchain in Action in the Food Industry

In 2016, retail giant Walmart started using a pilot version of the technology in its stores, tracking two products using blockchain: A packaged produce item in the United States and pork in China. Walmart announced that the results were “very encouraging,” noting that using blockchain technology could dramatically increase the speed of traceability from days to minutes. In fact, Walmart is now taking it to the next level with a collaboration with one of China’s largest retailers, JD.com, and their suppliers, to bring a higher level of food safety to China.

Other major food suppliers and retailers—Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Unilever—have also signalled their intention to work with IBM to create blockchain-based solutions. Blockchain technology is even being used to track the movement of tuna through the ocean and all the way to the consumer.

At the same time, implementing blockchain technology throughout the industry is a mammoth task. As of now, blockchain technology has a problem with scaling up and can only process a limited number of transactions per second, which would not be sufficient given the needs of the global supply chain. According to Coindesk, each transaction costs about $0.20, and can only store 80 bytes of data, so the bill might become quite hefty as well.

There’s also the fact that the food industry is traditionally slow to adopt new technologies. It’s not just about big players like Walmart—small, medium, and large businesses alike need to come onboard in order for this to become an industry-wide standard.

Can FSVP Unlock the Potential for Blockchain Technology?

There are several reasons why blockchain technology could be the key to tackling the complex challenge that is tracking and verifying foreign suppliers. Blockchains can help increase transparency and communication across the food supply chain, ensuring that there are no gaps and that records are widely available and up to date. When all the information about suppliers and products is easily accessible, the potential to increase the speed of recall response is very high.

Blockchain technology is also suited to FSVP’s goals, specifically. One of the main goals of FSVP and FSMA generally is to tackle the issues of food fraud, intentional adulteration and bioterrorism that are unique problems of our time, in terms of scale if nothing else. Such a modern problem requires modern solutions. Because the blockchain, forming the basis of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, focuses on security, it could mean that blockchains can help close the gaps that would be exploited by food companies employees, or other actors who harbor ill intent.

The reality, however, is that the level of industry-wide coordination—and voluntary transparency—that would be necessary to deliver real benefits is extremely high. The theoretical possibilities are exciting and hugely impactful; the practical reality is more complex. For blockchain to reach its full potential, it has to be universally mandated, which is highly unlikely given the current circumstances. It seems more likely that adoption in this area could be driven by industry organizations and/or government, but unfortunately, the recently proposed budget cuts for the FDA might block progress in the latter area.

Still, with major food suppliers and retailers leading the charge and taking blockchain technology for a test run, the rest of the industry is waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Blockchain Improves Visibility In the Food Supply Chain

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Cryptocurrency is a favorite topic in the business world currently, but it’s not the coins or currency that are the star of the show. Bitcoin in and of itself is exciting and promising from several perspectives. However, the foundation of what these technologies run on is much more important. You likely already know what we’re going to talk about next: Blockchain.

To understand why blockchain is considered so crucial, you first need to delve into the core components of the technology. It’s basically a digital ledger, except it has some incredibly useful properties that make it uniquely lucrative. For starters, it’s public and transparent, so anyone with access to the network can see what’s happening in the moment, or what has been happening while they were away. However, the parties involved in a transaction or entry remain private, as do the materials or items exchanging hands.

Finally, because of the nature of blockchain, it’s secured and valid. The ledger itself is thoroughly protected, and no one can alter data save the parties involved. Even then, the relevant parties only weigh in with pertinent information such as time and date of the transaction and the amount transferred.

Most of what we’re talking about here is in reference to currencies and more traditional transactions. But it’s important to remember that we’re merely scratching the surface. As we speak, various organizations are working to adapt this technology for alternate industries and applications.

Still, what does any of this have to do with your average food supply chain?

Blockchain May Evolve the Food Supply Chain As We Know It

Believe it or not, blockchain can help improve the transparency and management of the food supply chain. It’s definitely needed. The world’s population continues to grow, and it’s expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. In food requirements, that means we’ll need to be increasing food production by as much as 70% to keep up. This puts a demand on the food supply chain to evolve and become more efficient, more accurate and more reliable.

The following are several ways blockchain can help achieve better transparency in and management of the food supply chain.

Preventing Foodborne Outbreaks, Enabling Fresher Goods

IBM has teamed up with several major suppliers including Wal-Mart, Dole and Nestle to come up with a blockchain-powered system that can be used to track a product’s journey from farm to store shelves. The goal is to create a more transparent deployment and transportation process so that interested parties can see exactly when and where certain foods might become contaminated.

Tracking this information will achieve a couple of things. For starters, public health officials, suppliers and management teams can help limit and prevent contagions from spreading. After the detection of Salmonella, for instance, they could mark all related goods as a risk and stop both stores from selling them and consumers from buying faster than ever before.

Second, it will help identify problematic systems and processes, hopefully cutting down on the risk of contamination in the future. If they know certain foods are going bad in transport, they can discern that it’s something to do with how they’re handled or stored along that segment of the journey. This would further enable them to identify and fix or optimize the issue. In other words, suppliers and retailers will use blockchain to keep food fresh. This is especially important since FSMA calls for reliable hygiene and storage methods during transportation.

More Accurate Inventory Tracking for Distributors

Unexpected shortages pose significant challenges to the food supply chain. A variety of external factors can contribute to a supply block, including inclement weather, poor soil, insect infestations, equipment failures and much more. When this happens, distributors are left to pick up the slack, but sadly, they often can’t do much to fix the problem.

Blockchain technologies, however, make the supply chain more transparent, which helps distributors get the information they need to address shortages. Through the use of blockchain, they’ll know exactly how much supply is available and what they need to do to ramp up their offerings.

For example, in the event of a shortage, they might connect with local farmers to make up the difference. Gathering the information needed to find the right partner, however, can take a long time when using traditional methods. Through blockchain, though, distributors could easily see product types, farming practices, harvest dates and amounts, treatment info, fair-trade certifications and other information. This would allow them ample time to find a suitable replacement or additional partner.

Transparent Safety Protocols

The food supply chain is lengthy, includes a lot of different parties and involves a lot of metrics and details that need to be recorded and monitored. The problem with having so many factors is that it can muddy the waters. It’s hard to keep track of what every party is doing, where problems exist and what improvements can be made.

Many modern food supply providers are as transparent as they can be with partners and colleagues, but it’s not an element you would describe as streamlined or accessible to all. Blockchain can completely alter and disrupt this for the better.

Since food safety is an enormous concern for suppliers, distributors and retailers, blockchain can offer more than just peace of mind. It can help organizations perfect the entire process, improving safety for consumers and even enhancing the freshness or quality of the products provided. Improper storage or transport, for instance, can have a detrimental effect on quality, before the goods even reach store shelves. Blockchain will enable better tracking and monitoring, and make the resulting details much more accessible and transparent.

It’s Time for the Food Supply Chain to Evolve

The coming change is warranted and welcomed by many. A more transparent process means a much more accessible system. Suppliers can better communicate with farmers and food sources. Distributors and retailers can keep a close eye on the goods they’re acquiring and offering to consumers. Furthermore, safety, quality and quantity can be more accurately monitored and measured by everyone along the way. It’s time for the food supply chain to evolve in this way — it’s been a long time coming.

FoodLogiQ

FoodLogiQ Launches API Platform to Centralize IoT, Data

FoodLogiQ

FoodLogiQ has announced the launch of its API as a Service offering within the company’s Connect platform. Companies can use the platform to centralize IoT and blockchain data.

“By connecting the data our customers are gathering in FoodLogiQ with other platforms serving the food industry, our customers will achieve supply chain visibility unlike any other in the industry,” said Dean Wiltse, CEO of FoodLogiQ in a press release. “Whether it is a consumer-facing loyalty app, temperature monitoring sensors, inventory management platforms or grocery delivery services, the food industry requires a centralized technology platform to connect these many complex data sources and reduce redundancies through integrations.”

The service offerings include temperature and location monitoring, blockchain, data pools, business intelligence, and food quality and auditing technology. For more information about FoodLogiQ API as a Service, visit the company’s website.