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Can the blockchain improve traceability?

Many retailers and manufacturers are searching for better ways to quickly and efficiently identify the source of food safety problems. These issues are particularly important to grocery retailers, who are often the direct link to consumers. The complexity is made worse by the dependence on many suppliers, each with varying degrees of supply chain sophistication. It is becoming increasingly important to use technology to trace food ingredients.

But retailers and manufacturers are finding it difficult to choose the right platform. Blockchain is being considered by some as a potential tool for traceability. IBM's Food Trust initiative is a well-known example. This platform allows Walmart to quickly identify the source of a recall or problem. This is currently being tested using leafy greens. Some suppliers have begun to question their traceability applications because they fear that the retail giant will require compliance in the future.

But the bigger question is: Why are grocery retailers compelled by technology to enforce specific standards on food suppliers and manufacturers? Food manufacturers are looking at blockchain to quickly acquire the necessary capabilities to identify suspect products and ingredients. But before food manufacturers invest time and money in this technology, they need to evaluate whether it solves the problem or is being hyped by the media.


Technology can track the origins of ingredients and coordinate and execute supply chain recalls quickly. Technology can also help increase efficiency in recalls or "containment" if required. It narrows the focus, identifies specific batches, and isolates the products. This helps to minimize the safety risks while minimizing the impact on the supply chain. It is possible to quickly identify and locate the affected lots or batches of product, which helps reduce cross-contamination.

Modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), designed for the F&B sector, must include Internet of Things (loT), tracking capabilities. Network-based cloud solutions should work in conjunction with modern ERPs. They coordinate "containment communication" and activities across vast supply networks to quickly quarantine suspected products and materials. Mobile applications can be used in conjunction with network-based solutions to allow for a chain of custody. To prevent tainted products from entering or traversing the supply networks, and to communicate with customers if and when this happens, it is necessary to have efficient, structured, and fast communications with all participants in the supply chain.

Modern loT-tracking combined with network-based supply chains traceability is crucial in tracking suspect ingredients and isolating issues. To make this application effective, manufacturers must define loT according to the risk associated with each ingredient. A manufacturer may choose to track in a broad way, recording each truckload as one lot. The manufacturer can also choose to track fresh ingredients at a more detailed level, such as by pallet, day, and time. Manufacturers see the value in tracking ingredients down to the farm level, especially if the products are organic, non-GMO, or free-range.

Manufacturers have the flexibility to adapt the loT-tracking application according to their needs. This allows them to weigh the benefits against the costs. A supply network solution can be used to provide evidence of chain custody and support the marketed attributes. These solutions are flexible and allow manufacturers to adapt the loT-tracking application to their needs.

The system can quickly identify products that may be at risk by quickly determining if they are in transit from suppliers, on the plant floor, in warehouse or shipped to customers. You can track products that have been shipped so that the customer is notified quickly. It is also important to reduce the worry and uncertainty associated with recalls. A reliable tracking system helps customers feel secure that the threat has been contained. It also ensures that swift and decisive action is taken to protect the brand. Tech-savvy food producers have demanded traceability from their ERP systems and connected supply chain networks.

Is Blockchain the Solution?

Food suppliers and manufacturers can sometimes be less vigilant about tracking loT. They might have delayed deployment or neglected to implement track and trace modules in their ERP. The response time to adverse quality events will be slow, inefficient, manual, and costly without these tools. Many data are stored in multiple systems, such as Excel spreadsheets. The responsibility for locating products can be shared among supply chain partners. Communication can be done by phone, email, or fax. They may be frustrated by these difficulties and wonder if blockchain could offer a solution.

Some manufacturers might be motivated to try blockchain technology out because they are curious, afraid of being late adopters, or have a desire to combat security threats. Once the initial hype cycles have ended, new technologies require careful scrutiny to determine their true benefits and best use-cases. It is also important to identify which vertical industries are strategically aligned with them.

Blockchain is, at its most basic, a decentralized ledger that records transactions and stores the data in a way that prevents them from being altered. Although it was initially used for its financial implications and potential use in the supply chain to track transaction details, advocates also recognized the potential applications. Blockchain is an open, neutral platform that does not require authorization from any third party. Instead, all transactions are governed by a set of rules that all parties must follow. Some believe that blockchain is more secure than traditional platforms that can be tampered with. It is still unclear how blockchain can be integrated into the food manufacturing process and the supply chain. Experts believe that blockchain is still in the early stages of its development and has a lot to do before it becomes a mainstream technology. Yet we have seen a recent surge in use cases and companies starting to arise with blockchain technology as their foundation.

The solution most food manufacturers need is already available. Modern ERP solutions combine this functionality with a network-based cloud system. While it may not have the same appeal as blockchain, it has proven to be a reliable solution that is easily accessible across many partners, suppliers, and logistics providers. Manufacturers will gain valuable insight and control by adopting the capabilities in existing solutions today without the uncertainty and delays associated with blockchain.


Brand owners and manufacturers must be aware of the danger of food recall as they attempt to regain or retain consumers' trust. There is proven technology that can track and trace ingredients throughout the product cycle. This includes from the point of origin to the warehouse and the shipping to the end. Manufacturers can respond quickly to recalls using loT-tracking functionality and a network-based cloud traceability system. This allows them to take swift, efficient, and decisive actions while minimizing the impact on consumers. Although some companies are using blockchain technology to evaluate its effectiveness in supply chain tracking, it is not clear what the best practices might be. Now one must wait and see how this continues to unfold and if the blockchain can live up to the hype.

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