Bentonville / AR. (wama) In wake of U.S. romaine e. coli scare, omni-channel retailer Walmart Inc. announced a new, blockchain-enabled «Food Traceability Initiative» that will increase transparency in the U.S. food system and create shared value for the entire leafy green farm to table continuum.
While fresh leafy greens are overwhelmingly safe when you consider per capita consumption rates and they are an important and healthy part of a person’s diet, unfortunately, over the past decade, there have been multiple high profile recalls and outbreaks associated with these types of products. In fact, this year, the United States experienced a large, multistate outbreak of E coli O157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce. All in all, the outbreak resulted in 210 confirmed cases, caused 96 hospitalizations, and tragically 5 deaths. Although the FDA and CDC were able to inform consumers, producers, and retailers that the romaine lettuce associated with illnesses came from the Yuma growing region, in general, health officials and industry professionals were unable to quickly determine which lots were affected and which were not. This resulted in millions of bags and heads of romaine lettuce having to be removed from the market place and a loss of consumer confidence in romaine lettuce, regardless of growing region, as well as negatively affecting the economic livelihood of many, including farmers.
Walmart believes the current one-step up and one-step back model of food traceability is outdated for the 21st Century and that by, working together, we can do better. There is no question that there is a strong public-health and business-case for enhanced food traceability. By quickly tracing leafy greens back to source during an outbreak using recent advances in new and emerging technologies, impacts to human health can be minimized, health officials can conduct rapid and more thorough root cause analysis to inform future prevention efforts, and the implication and associated-losses of unaffected products that are inaccurately linked to an outbreak can be avoided.
Over the past 18 months, Walmart has piloted new technology in collaboration with numerous suppliers and IBM and we have demonstrated that meaningful enhancements to food traceability is possible. Using the IBM Food Trust network that relies on blockchain technology, we have shown that we can reduce the amount of time it takes to track a food item from a Walmart Store back to source in seconds, as compared to days or sometimes weeks.
As part of the new «Walmart Food Traceability Initiative» all fresh leafy greens suppliers are expected to be able to trace their products back to farm(s) (by production lot) in seconds – not days. To do this, suppliers will be required to capture digital, end-to-end traceability event information using the IBM Food Trust network.