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Albertsons joins IBM Food Trust blockchain network

Pilot initially to focus on tracing romaine lettuce

Albertsons Cos. has become a member of the IBM Food Trust network, a blockchain-based cloud service designed to improve food safety.

The nation’s second-largest supermarket retailer, Albertsons said Thursday it will first pilot IBM Food Trust to trace bulk romaine lettuce from one of its distribution centers, and then look at expanding the service to other food categories throughout its distribution network.

IBM Food Trust aims to make it easier for retailers, suppliers, growers and food industry providers to access data from across the food ecosystem, enabling better traceability, transparency and efficiency. According to IBM, the use of blockchain technology allows food to be traced back to its source in as soon as seconds — instead of days or weeks — and provides a higher level of trusted information versus traditional databases, since transactions are endorsed by multiple parties.

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“Blockchain technology has the potential to be transformational for us as we further build differentiation on our fresh brand,” Albertsons Cos. Chief Information Officer Anuj Dhanda said in a statement. “Food safety is a very significant step. In addition, the provenance of the products enabled by blockchain — the ability to track every move from the farm to the customer’s basket — can be very empowering for our customers.”

Albertsons said it’s employing IBM Food Trust to overcome barriers that have existed when a traceback is triggered for a product like romaine lettuce. The Boise, Idaho-based retailer, which operates nearly 2,300 stores under about 20 banners across 35 states, also is examining ways to use the service to help ensure the sourcing of products in its private-brand portfolio.

“Multiple high-profile consumer advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration demonstrate the need to find more efficient ways of tracing products and identifying likely sources of contamination in a timely manner,” according to Jerry Noland, vice president of food safety and quality assurance for Albertsons Cos. “Consequently, retailers are exploring new technologies to improve the infrastructure that underpins the global food-supply chain.”

Under a blockchain system, food products are traced as they move through the supply chain, and a digital record is created of every transaction or interaction — from the packaging date to the temperature at which an item was shipped to its arrival on a store shelf. IBM noted that such transparency can address food quality issues ranging from food safety to freshness, as well as verification of certifications like organic or fair trade, waste reduction and sustainability.

So far, IBM Food Trust has tracked 5 million food products from farm to shelf and conducted 200,000 food tracebacks. More than 80 brands participate in the network, including retailers Walmart, The Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos., Carrefour, ShopRite parent Wakefern Food Corp.; grocery group purchasing organization Topco Associates; and manufacturers and suppliers Driscoll’s, Dole, Golden State Foods, McCormick and Co., McLane Co., Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Unilever.

The IBM Food Trust network became generally available last fall after 18 months of testing. Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM added that members are urging supply chain partners, including downstream suppliers, to join the network to help provide a fuller view of a food product’s life cycle.

“Establishing IBM Food Trust and opening it to the food ecosystem last year was a major milestone in making blockchain real for business,” said Raj Rao, general manager of IBM Food Trust. “Today, we are focused on ensuring that the solution scales and is accessible to participants across the food ecosystem, such as Albertsons Cos. By bringing more members into the network and enabling them to share greater cross-sections of data in a secured environment, we believe our vision of a transformed food ecosystem using blockchain is closer than ever.” 

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