Envision yourself at the grocery store standing in the fresh produce aisle. Ask yourself, where was it all grown? How long did it take to get to you? Is it really organically grown? And, perhaps most important, is it safe to eat?
With the help of blockchain technology, these are the types of questions that may be easily answered by simply pulling out your phone.
Blockchain often makes headlines as the technology that undergirds cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but its application extends far beyond that. It operates by forming a “chain” of blocks of information in which an update to the system is verified and recorded by every individual block in that system. This way, no part of it can be hacked or otherwise altered without changing the entire chain.
How blockchain can help
Now companies are starting to use this technology to form smarter distribution networks for food. And with implementation being embraced by collaborations through corporations like IBM Food Trust™ and Walmart, it looks as if the technology will become even more widespread.
Perhaps the greatest effect of incorporating blockchain technology into food distribution is the enhanced safety. Currently, if there is an outbreak of a foodborne illness like E. Coli, a morass of paperwork and records means that identifying the source takes about a week. With a blockchain distribution system, that time would be reduced to a mere 2.2 seconds, which would completely transform our ability to respond to diseases as soon as they appear.
Making vegetables safer
The system would function by having each stage of the process – from farmer to grocer – record important information about their product, like location, growing conditions, status, and temperature. As the food moves across the distribution network, it would create a digital chain of custody, recording everywhere food has been and everything that happened to it along the journey. This way, it makes it easy to isolate the exact point where any problems may have arisen.
Blockchain also promises to empower consumers by giving them a fuller portrait of the food they consume. While popular terms like organic, sustainably grown, and farm-to-table have become ascendant food labels, there is no overarching regulating body for them, so unfortunately they currently have no set definition. Blockchain would allow health and environmentally-conscious buyers to see how their food’s freshness and determine what factors are important to them without being dependent on producers’ labeling.
Knowledge is power
Consumers would be able to know what farm their food came from, its conditions, how it was treated and transported, and many other vital pieces of relevant information about what they're purchasing. This information would be as easy to access as scanning a QR code in the grocery store.
The benefits of blockchain technology in food distribution are clear. Thankfully, as this efficient solution becomes cheaper to implement, we can expect to see a rise in transparent food networks, and in turn, a healthier, more informed food future.