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What will it take for better traceability from farm to fork?

Guest Author

Author: Sandeep Rameja


With 16% of consumers saying they would never buy a recalled food product again, what will it take for better traceability?  What will it take to minimize food safety problems?

     “We really do believe transparency is the currency of trust. You can’t wait until your portfolio is perfect. You have to share what you can with your consumer immediately.”    —Deborah Arcoleo, Director of Product Transparency, The Hershey Co.

This comment from a Food Business News article caught my eye because it discusses a common problem in the food supply chain. The supply chain lacks the transparency necessary to minimize the amount of time and money typically required to pull recalled products from shelves.

Food recalls cost companies an average of $10 million in direct costs alone. It also puts consumers on guard. A Harris Interactive survey shows that 16% of consumers would never buy a recalled food product again, and 17% of people impacted by a recall would not buy any product from the same manufacturer.

These costs highlight the need for better traceability from the farm to the fork.

It’s something consumers demand and businesses need. People expect to see reliable information on food labels. After all, what’s the point of an expiration date if the food is contaminated anyway? And businesses can’t afford inefficiencies in their processes that mask problems and slow their response times during recalls.

So how does the food products industry prevent and minimize the impact of food safety problems? The elimination of manual tracking processes is an excellent place to start.


Is Blockchain the Answer?

Efforts are already underway to transform how various sectors track products throughout the supply chain. Blockchain provides a secure, immutable ledger that records all transactions, including any change of custody, as a product moves through the supply chain.

Businesses around the world have been deploying an early adopter version of Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service., which allows organizations to execute more secure and efficient transactions and track goods through global supply chains.

For example, Certified Origins, a company that produces extra virgin olive oil, wanted to trace its Bellucci EVOO product across the entire supply chain. The company grows its fruits at small family farms in Italy and sells the Bellucci EVOO brand in the US.

The added transparency provides a competitive advantage for the company, says Andrea Biagianti, CIO of Certified Origins: “It adds a further level of transparency and information that is valuable for consumers looking for quality products and helps us to support the excellence of the small farms.”


IoT Ensures Data Integrity

While blockchain shows promise as a track-and-trace tool, it’s only as good as the data flowing into the system. This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) plays a critical role. Transferring data from paper-based sources, proprietary software or barcodes can be time-consuming. IoT allows users to gather data from sensors and upload that information directly to the blockchain.

This is already happening in the fishing industry. Intelligent cameras aboard fishing vessels capture every event on the ship. These smart cameras can determine the type of fish, where it was caught, the weight, the discard rate, and other vital data about the process. This information, combined with company-specific data, is fed into the blockchain system to create a provenance of each fish.

This is important for several reasons: For one, identifying the source of a food safety issue becomes much more efficient. In addition to fish-specific attributes, blockchain participants can trace the product back to specific lots and pallets as well as any stops along the supply chain, such as distributors, processors, suppliers, retailers, and food-service operators.

Another benefit relates to the consumer. Sustainability and ethical harvesting practices are increasingly important to customers. Many want to know how their fish was caught and the country of origin. IoT and artificial intelligence enable the type of transparency that customers increasingly are demanding.


Fresh Approach to Safety and Security

IoT also plays an essential role in condition monitoring while products are in transit. Of course, perishable items require refrigeration. Some companies are using advanced sensors inside refrigerated shipping containers to monitor temperature, moisture, and other environmental factors continuously.

When conditions move outside a threshold, each outlier is recorded in the blockchain, so participants know in real time that an incident has occurred. They can respond immediately and minimize potential costs or safety issues related to any storage missteps.

Blockchain also gives stakeholders more confidence that products are secure. Intelligent sensors track the location of products and any movement inside the container, including whether any doors were opened, or whether the shipment deviated from its intended route.

The benefits of blockchain and IoT become more evident when they’re accessible through integrated, fully managed cloud platforms. Cloud-based applications allow businesses to rapidly onboard network participants and quickly improve transparency with plug-and-play integration. Cloud-based blockchain platforms also enable increased scalability so that the system can grow along with the business.

For the food industry, the ability to connect seamlessly through the cloud means greater transparency across the entire supply chain. That’s good news for both the industry and for consumers, as food and beverage suppliers look to minimize costs while operating healthfully and sustainable.


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