Sondra Ashmore, Ph.D.
W.R. Berkley Corporation
We are living during a time when technology is disrupting major industries. Some offer cost savings such as Uber’s solution to high cab rates while others, car sensors that alert us before an accident happens for example, improve our safety and security. In the best cases, these disruptive technologies help us to reduce costs and improve safety. We believe Blockchain will do both for food safety.
The Blockchain technology has gained popularity in recent years due to it’s ability to provide a secure and immutable public ledger. Blockchain is an append-only ledger that encodes valid transactions in a system that must be agreed to by pre-defined rules. It has gained the most recognition as the underlying technology for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Major industries and technology experts have been working together to understand how we can benefit from Blockchain outside of cryptocurrencies. Everledger is tackling jewelry theft and fraud by tracking gems on a Blockchain. In Brooklyn, NY, a neighborhood is exchanging solar energy over a blockchain to increase their usage of environmentally friendly practices and to reduce expenses.
Large food industry retailers such as Wal Mart and Nestle are now turning to Blockchain to help reduce foodborne illness. IBM recently announced that they have been testing an enterprise blockchain implementation that allows food to be tracked from producer to retailer. One concern that food industry experts had was the public nature of Blockchain. They did not want their competitors to see their supply chains. IBM created an enterprise version of Blockchain that allows only authorized parties to see the transaction history. A new company, Ambrosus, is also working on Blockchain technology that leverages intelligent packaging sensors to track food and medicine. For example, the contract for exchange on the Blockchain could be that the sensors indicate that the food has been stored at optimal temperatures. We see this as just the beginning of advancements in technology that will help to quickly pinpoint the sources of foodborne illnesses.
What does this mean for product recalls? It means that finding the source of a food contaminate that today can take two weeks to two months can be found in seconds allowing companies to remove contaminated food before it is sold or consumed. It also means that victims can receive medical treatment more quickly ultimately reducing fatalities. Estimates show that over 400,000 people die worldwide each year due to foodborne illness. Around a third of those fatalities are children. At Berkley Global Product Recall Management, we welcome the disruption Blockchain can offer to reduce the negative impacts of foodborne illness.