Technology giant IBM and Shandong Commercial Group Co., a major retailer in China, have teamed up to build a pork traceability system in China’s Shandong Province, IBM announced last week.

The new system, created at the request of Shandong Provincial Municipality, is aimed at improving food safety and public confidence in pork after a series of high profile scandals involving illegal feed additives rocked the industry.  

China is the world’s top consumer and producer of pork products. According to IBM, China slaughters more pigs than the next 43 pork-producing countries combined. In Shandong Province, pork is a “major pillar” of the local economy.

In 2010, Shandong Commercial Group Co. (Lushang Group) contracted with IBM to develop the new system, which is set to fully deploy in 2013. Six slaughterhouses, six warehouses, and around 100 Inzone supermarkets across the province were selected to test the system. When complete, the traceability program will allow several other agricultural companies in Shandong to have full visibility over their supply chains — from farms to slaughterhouses to supermarket shelves.

“When fully deployed, this system will give consumers in the Shandong Province confidence in the pork products they serve to their families,” said Wang Guo Li, director, National Agricultural Research Center for Modern Logistics Engineering, the research arm of Lushang Group.  “As an agricultural powerhouse within China, our province is committed to improving food safety and this system marks a significant step toward that goal.”

How exactly does the system work? At slaughterhouses, each pig is tagged with a bar code and a unique serial number that follows through the supply chain all the way to the packed product. On top of tagging, cameras are used to monitor the production process. Temperature and humidity sensors are used to ensure meat is transported at the right temperature and GPS technology is used to track the location of product. If something goes awry, “the system will send an alert to prompt corrective action,” according to IBM.

If consumers illnesses are linked to pork produced in Shandong Province, the new system should be able to pinpoint the problem, making a targeted and swift recall possible. “[to] minimize the number of people who get sick, while keeping pork that is safe available for purchase.”

“Based on our experiences in building food and pharmaceutical tracking systems in other countries, IBM has helped to create a system that traces pork through the entire supply chain from pig farms all the way to supermarkets,” said Matt Wang, vice president, IBM China Development Lab. 

“Using this system, Shandong Province’s pork products will be safer and thus more desirable to consumers,” added Wang. “Governments and pork producers in other countries should take note of what Lushang Group is doing.”