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Blockchain and IoT for Food Supply Chain Safety

Mary Hall, and Murli Ram

Today’s consumers have become increasingly discriminating about the food products they consume. Consumers want to be certain they’re making healthy eating choices for themselves and their families. Regulators, for their part, are rightly concerned at the increasing incidence of product adulteration in the food supply and the time it takes to identify the source of outbreaks and respond effectively. What’s needed is trustworthy end-to-end transparency along the food supply chain, not only to authenticate the origin of products, but also ensure that they are properly handled at every stage of the source-to-fork process. 

Retailers and brands are searching for ways to provide this transparency, but the process is only becoming more and more challenging, as supply chains grow in complexity, and competitive pressures increase. Smart Cosmos Solutions has been working with Oracle to assemble solutions using established and emerging technologies such as blockchain, RFID, NFC, and the cloud to fuel today’s consumer engagement and supply chain visibility.

The three Ts of food: supply chain security and authenticity

There are three basic elements to any solution to the problems of maintaining a healthy food supply chain: 
1.    Transparency: Transparency helps foster trust that food origin and quality are what brands claim them to be and enables real-time collaboration among all partners, achieving cost and risk reduction in the supply chain.
2.    Traceability:  Consumers and regulators want to know the origin and pathway of the products reaching the market. 
3.    Trust: Engendering trust between brands and consumers—and among multiple parties along the supply chain—is necessary but difficult to achieve efficiently with traditional methods.
 
These three elements create multiple challenges that food producers, distributors, and retailers face today. The first of these is a lack of interoperability among the multiple systems used by companies along the supply chain, making the sharing of provenance and safety data (such as proper temperature) difficult. And when these systems do share information—or are unified under the control of a single stakeholder—it is difficult to verify, which reduces trust and transparency. In fact, many transactions are still conducted on paper, which significantly slows the supply chain journey, leading to increased costs and opportunities for error. Finally, because data sharing is not instantaneous, a party could conceivably withhold the transmission of negative data until it could be verified, slowing the process and ultimately reducing trust.
 
This is where emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain present a compelling solution. By combining temperature sensors at a granular level (pallet or even individual case) with blockchain’s distributed ledger technology (DLT), stakeholders gain full visibility and traceability across the entire supply chain to ensure product authenticity and chain of custody responsibility. 

Food safety reimagined with IoT and blockchain 

Here’s how the system works: Temperature sensors attached to the product log temperature throughout the supply chain. When a temperature excursion beyond the established safety range occurs, it is written to the blockchain.  Each critical tracking event (CTE) such as palletization, trailer load, exit and enter facility is also recorded to the chain, so each of these events is written to an immutable transaction onto the blockchain and connected to Oracle's Blockchain Platform. One significant point to make is that the sensors do not write continuous data to the blockchain, which could slow down the entire system, but rather transmit only temperature excursions and CTEs.
 
One of the most important benefits of a blockchain-based track and trace solution is reducing the instances of recalls due to mishandled food. But should an outbreak occur, the system can also dramatically reduce its scope and response time. With traditional solutions, only the temperature of the air in the shipping container is monitored, which is not much more than a proxy for product temperature. If the reading is high, it’s possible that only the outermost layers of product where affected. If it’s normal, there’s still the possibility that the location of a pallet, for example on the floor and close to road heat, could lead to spoilage. For that reason, any temperature excursion requires the destruction of the entire shipment, while a normal reading could still allow improperly cooled product to reach the market. The more granular the measurements, the more pinpointed the disposal could be, thereby limiting loss. 

Similarly, in the case of recalls, the origins of the affected product could be quickly determined leading to a more focused, efficient, and effective public response. In fact, recalled product could be pulled immediately, wherever it is along the supply chain.  To see how a Food Recall can be done using Oracle Blockchain Platform, watch this short video of using Oracle Blockchain manage a food recall.

To learn more about Oracle Blockchain Platform, blockchain technology and prebuilt applications, visit the Oracle Blockchain website. 

About the Author: 
Murli Ram, Consultant at Smart Cosmos

Murli Ram is a senior technology executive with extensive experience in digitally transforming Engineering, Manufacturing & Supply Chain Organizations in Automotive, Defense Contracting, Food & Energy industries using technologies such as IT,OT, IoT and RFID.

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