Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a four-part series on how companies can use electronic record keeping to enhance food safety efforts. The series is sponsored by PAR Technologies.  

“Today’s food supply chains have an inherent weakness: individual parties are using disparate digital systems, different technologies, and paper-based processes to bridge the gaps,” says Premal Bhatt, QA and Food Safety SME. For the last 15 years, Bhatt has worked to establish global food safety and quality standards. 

The food industry’s tendency to operate in silos instead of a “single end-to-end view of the food delivery prevail” has created costly delays in handling food safety issues, explains Bhatt. However, there is a promising remedy made available with digital record keeping: Blockchain.  

“Blockchain is a digital computer networking technology that creates a complete, immutable record of transactions that have been made, and shares it in real time among all participants in a network,” he says. “It provides impressive advantages such as transparency, immutability, traceability, better management of product shelf-life, and rapid determination of the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak or food fraud.” 

Th recent foodborne illness outbreak caused by romaine lettuce being contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 greatly magnified traceability issues within the current fragmented food safety record keeping systems, says Bhatt. 

In a piece by Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, he explained the experiment conducted by Walmart and IBM to trace a package of sliced mangoes to their source. While Walmart’s traditional trackback time took almost seven days (six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes), the digital program was able to whittle it down to 2.2 seconds. 

“The Blockchain-connected sensors can locate and communicate the source of contaminated produce far more quickly than traditional traceback communication, and well within the 21 days of the harvest to wholesale processing to retail to consumption cycle,” explains Suppan. “Reducing the time for identification of the source of food borne illness will not only protect more consumers, but increase the brand value and reduce the reputation risk that comes with being identified after the fact of contamination as a site of foodborne illness.”

Real-time data has multiple benefits
Along with improved traceability, digital records bring various business advantages. Greg Sommerville, founder of Global Supplier Verification, says real-time data that is assessable anytime, anywhere is one of the biggest benefits. 

“Technology is going mobile so records and production can be monitored remotely. Employees can log in from anywhere and see what is happening at that time. Storing items in the cloud with a strong security brief is key in ensuring everyone the companies that wants to have access does,” says Sommerville. “Cloud storage allows a digitally connected supply chain where partners within the supply chain have access to relevant records for themselves, verifying practices and ensuring requirements are met.” 

According to Sommerville, digital technology is also beneficial in keeping in compliance with food safety plans through automated sampling to ensure correct samples are taken off the line at the right time and right amount. 

“Sensors in equipment are being used as early warning indicators for machinery or to keep critical limits in place,” he explains. “The sensors can record on a continual basis with notifications to responsible persons if the system starts to fail.”

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