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Powerhouse Partnership Aims to Improve Food Safety Practices in China

NOV 28, 2016 | KRISTI ROSA
An impressive partnership has been established between IBM, Walmart, and Tsinghua University, as they band together in an effort to strengthen food safety practices in China. Researchers have come up with an innovative solution that they hope will significantly improve the way that food is tracked, transported, and sold: blockchain technology.

“China’s rapid economic growth has led to massive opportunities for innovation, but it has also presented quality of life challenges, including helping to assure that food sold in the country is safe to eat, said professor Chai Yueting, PhD, from the National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies, Tsinghua University, in IBM’s official press release.

In order to find the source of any food contamination, food authentication and supply chain tracking are crucial. Researchers feel that blockchain technology can be used to strengthen these avenues due to its accuracy; it is essentially an unchangeable ledger of transactions.

IBM Blockchain, based on the Linux Foundation Hyperledger Project, provides a way to track food supplies from suppliers, to retailers, to consumers. According to the press release, “When applied to the food supply chain, digital product information such as farm origination details, batch numbers, factory and processing data, expiration dates, storage temperatures and shipping detail are digitally connected to food items and the information is entered into the blockchain along every step of the process.” All of this information is essential when it comes to identifying if there are any safety issues with food products.

“Advanced technology has reached into so many aspects of modern life but it has lagged in food traceability, and in particular in creating more secure food supply chains. Our collaboration with Walmart and Tsinghua University is a step of global significance to change that. Food touches all of us, everywhere, so we are experimenting in China with Walmart and Tsinghua given the size and scale of food consumption in this country,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, Industry Platforms, IBM, said in the press release.

Current strategies for tracking supply chains consist of paper tracking or manual inspection, which leave room for error. With blockchain, as the food products make their way through each "link" in the supply chain, the transaction information is agreed on and then permanently recorded. The fact that the information cannot be changed leaves less room for any inaccuracies in product information, which will allow for retailers to better manage the food products that they house on their shelves later on down the supply chain.

“Tsinghua University is also committed to in-depth research of food safety—one of the most important areas that the world is focusing on. We believe the work with IBM and Walmart can serve as a global model for others to follow and replicate,” Dr. Yeuting said.
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