Among humans’ most basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, none is more critical and none has been as exploited as food. The food sector has grown exponentially over the last couple of decades. In the 1980s, a typical grocery store would house 15000 food products. Now, it’s over 50000 products. The rapid growth of the industry comes with its own share of problems though, namely that of food safety.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 10 people worldwide falls ill due to consumption of contaminated food. The 42000 deaths, as a result, adds up to a loss of an estimated 33 million healthy life years (DALYs). Hence, it goes without saying that ensuring optimal food safety is the need of the hour. It requires close monitoring and easy traceability of food products along the supply chain from farm to fork. But the involvement of many highly diverse elements along the supply chain, lack of effective communication among them and the archaic methods of maintaining food records makes this a highly complicated and time-consuming task.
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In over eight countries across North America and Europe, 53 deaths were reported following a case of contaminated fenugreek sprouts. The contamination led to an outbreak of Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli. In addition to contamination, the food sector is also largely at risk from falsification and adulteration. One such instance was the infamous horsemeat scandal in 2013, wherein various food products claiming to contain beef were found to be containing undeclared horsemeat.
Let’s consider the case of the salmonella outbreak in the U.S. during 2008-2009. Peanut Corporation of America—a Virginia-based peanut processing company was the antagonist here. The salmonella contamination in the peanut paste used in various products, led to the deaths of 9 people, with 714 people affected by it. This triggered one of the largest product recalls of the time in the country. With products ranging from granulated peanuts, crackers, granola bars, cookies, chocolate ice-cream, to pet food products, a total of 3,913 food products were recalled in a process that took around two months.
This is a situation that Blockchain could have easily mitigated. One of the fundamental issues with conventional food quality assurance systems is the lack of a uniform recording system among producers, suppliers, and retailers across the food supply chain. Moreover, most of the records providing information about the origin of the food product, lot number, expiration date, and shipping details may not be maintained at every stage of the supply chain and are also easy to manipulate.
As shown in the diagram above, under each step in the supplychain of a food comodity, the relevant information and certification can be recorded in a bloclchain network, making a permanenet tamper-proof record which can be accessd by an end customer to see the quality details of the food comodity, ensuring that they are buying good quality products which have a genuine track record of the supplychain.
Such an extensive system could have traced the origin of the contamination and narrowed it down to an exact lot of the contaminated product.This would have facilitated faster and more precise product recalls and maybe, fewer casualties. It would have also saved the company a lot of money.
A blockchain-based food quality assurance system which can help maintain a verifiable and tamperproof record of the food products along its journey from farm to fork would be the perfect solution. It would be beneficial in the following ways:
By virtue of the system relying on a decentralized ledger, various participants across the food supply chain would be more accountable to ensure optimal food safety. Being integrated into one single platform would allow unparalleled levels of transparency of operations, providing participants with on-demand, real-time information pertaining to the food products.
The blockchain system would allow for checks to be made at every level of the supply chain, ensuring the highest levels of food security. In the event of a contamination being detected, the source of the problem can be easily traced and only the affect lot can be pulled off the shelf. Apart from drastically reducing food-related diseases, it would also reduce the healthcare burden associated with the same. For example, a 1% reduction in the number of foodborne diseases in the U.S., would result in saving of US$ 700 million.
From the consumer’s point of view, they would be able to verify all details about the food product including information about its origin and expiration date, before deciding to make the purchase. The incorruptible nature of the record would help improve consumer confidence in the products, wherein they can be assured that all information provided is a 100% accurate and reliable.
Effective communication among all participants would be possible all the records on the hyperledger would be available to all across the supply chain. The food products can be maintained at optimal temperatures and storage conditions on the basis of various aspects such as duration of transit and production date can be assessed accurately. This would ensure that the end consumer is offered the freshest produce and products. This would also help cut down on food wastage as currently, around one-third of the food worldwide goes to waste. Lesser food losses and optimal functioning of all elements in the supply chain would result in significant cost savings, which in turn can be passed on to the consumers.
The advent of blockchain promises to bring about a paradigm shift in the food sector, with major industry players working together towards improving food safety standards through implementation of the revolutionary technology. The end-to-end transparency provided by blockchain promise to make all food safety woes a thing of the past and bring safe and affordable food within the grasp of all.
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