In recent years, fruits, vegetables and meat products have all been susceptible to some sort of scare. And for good reason. Each year, one in 10 Americans is sickened by food, and 400,000 die. Tracking down the cause of the contaminated product sometimes can take months.
In the spring, romaine tainted with E.coli bacteria started making people ill. At least 50 were hospitalized. But no one could pinpoint exactly where the romaine came from. Then in November, it happened again. Another 43 people were infected. While the source was eventually identified, Centers for Disease Control advised “consumers, restaurants and retailers not to eat, serve or sell any romaine lettuce as it investigates an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine.” Restaurants pulled it from shelves—whether it was the guilty strain or not—creating an impact on the industry and farmers.
It took food safety scientists weeks to trace the tainted lettuce, in both cases.
While outbreaks of foodborne illness will continue, the process of casting about for a culprit may not last as long in the near future. Blockchain—the same technology used in bitcoin and other industries—is starting to make its way into food. While safety—thanks to the visibility blockchain offers—is at the top of the positives, there are other ways that it could benefit food and farmers around the world. As it is adopted, material handlers will have an important role to play.
“Blockchain technology has a lot of buzz going for it at the moment, in part also because of the huge valuation of bitcoin, the most well-known example of this distributed transaction tracking technology today,” said Marc Braun, president of MHI member Pcdata USA operations. “And there’s no doubt that, in theory, blockchain offers a lot of benefits over the traditional supply chain, with many transactions between many players causing inefficiencies and in-transparencies. Blockchain has the potential of revolutionizing supply chain, and for that reason alone material handlers should try to stay current on it.”