IBM has announced the membership of several leading global retailers to its blockchain-based food supply chain network IBM Food Trust. 

IBM says the network helps organisations in the food industry run more efficiently and provide safer food at lower costs.

Among the new organisations joining the growing ecosystem are French supermarket giant Carrefour, and Topco, America’s largest retail food group purchasing organisation. 

The new additions join US food retailer Walmart, which recently announced that it will begin requiring its salad suppliers to capture digital end-to-end traceability event information using the network.

IBM also announced the general availability of the network following almost 18 months of testing. During the trials, millions of individual food products have been tracked by retailers and suppliers.

Blockchain provenance

Unlike traditional databases, blockchain ledgers allow network members to improve trust by requiring multiple parties to verify transactions, producing an immutable record of information. Each node on the blockchain is controlled by a separate entity, and all data on the blockchain is encrypted.

The food industry has long been earmarked as an ideal use case for the technology, due to concerns about food provenance.

Just this week, UK sandwich chain Pret a Manger was on the defensive after one its customers died of an allergic reaction to a sandwich that was incorrectly labelled as dairy-free. Pret says an ingredient used to form the sandwich was mis-sold to them as dairy-free, and was later discovered to contain dairy protein.

By incorporating supply chain, provenance, testing, and sensor data on to its permissioned network, IBM Food Trust enables growers, suppliers, and retailers to share and access food origin details and shipping information. This allows reliant parties to quickly trace food back to its source in mere seconds, compared to the days or weeks required at present.

“The currency of trust today is transparency and achieving it in the area of food safety happens when responsibility is shared,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior VP for IBM Global Industries, Clients, Platforms and Blockchain.

“That collaborative approach is how the members of IBM Food Trust have shown blockchain can strengthen transparency and drive meaningful enhancements to food traceability. Ultimately that provides business benefits for participants and a better and safer product for consumers,” she added.

IBM has also added new features to the network that generate information on food freshness, allowing the food retailers to reduce wastage.

By creating a single global network with major retail members, IBM Food Trust also solves the challenge of interoperability that currently impedes widespread business adoption of blockchain technology. Food Trust runs on the open source blockchain framework Hyperledger.

The Linux-led initiative recently announced that it was teaming up with blockchain-standards organisation EEA to fast-forward enterprise blockchain adoption.