Behold the blockchain. The disruptive new technology promises to make traditional paper ledger-based transactions obsolete, replaced by digital ledgers. Headlines appear every day heralding how blockchain technology will revolutionize financial services markets, which remain burdened by unwieldy paper trails and costly proprietary software applications. But blockchain technology will also have a transformative impact on the food industry and many other industries. From cost savings to removal of intermediaries to more efficient and precise tracking of contamination, the food business will derive many benefits from blockchain.

None of this is lost on titans in the food industry and technology giants are focused on blockchain, too. IBM has announced a blockchain collaboration with food giants including Walmart, Unilever and Nestle. Big Blue has announced that it will help global food businesses use its blockchain network to trace the source of contaminated food instantly.  Because blockchain uses digital means to track transactions and trace the flow of food, contamination trails can be solved by data-centric means rather than paper-based ones. Officials from Walmart have demonstrated how this kind of contamination tracking can take place in under three seconds.

According to the World Health Organization, one in ten people will fall ill every year due to contaminated food. Children under 5 years of age are at particularly high risk, with 125,000 children dying from foodborne diseases every year. Blockchain technology will have a giant impact on these problems. The full list of food companies signed on to work with IBM’s blockchain network is as follows: Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart.

In this video, Walmart’s VP of Food Safety discussed the huge impact that blockchain will have:


According to Forbes: “By using blockchain, when a problem arises, the potential is to quickly identify what the source of contamination is since one can see across the whole ecosystem and where all the potential points of contamination could be using the data to pinpoint the source. As such it is ‘ideally suited’ according to IBM to address these challenges because it establishes a trusted environment for all transactions.”

IBM has already conducted several pilots focused on food safety in order to demonstrate the ways in which blockchain can benefit global food traceability.

All participants in the global food supply chain stand to benefit from blockchain technology, ranging from growers to suppliers and distributors. Beyond tracking contamination, blockchain promises to usher in much more efficient, trusted financial transactions that can remove many types of intermediaries. According to a new market intelligence report by BIS Research, titled Blockchain Technology in Financial Services Market – Analysis and Forecast: 2017 to 2026′, cost savings of $30 to $40 billion per year will be achieved in trade finance.

The move to blockchain does not necessarily mean buying into expensive proprietary platforms, either. While IBM’s blockchain network resides on the IBM Cloud platform, The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project is squarely focused on keeping blockchain open source and blockchain solutions free. Many powerful companies are partners on the project, and are committed to keeping patent wars and proprietary shenanigans out of the blockchain ecosystem.

“Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system – equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors,” notes Walmart VP Frank Yiannas. “It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network.”

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