Walmart Tests Food Safety With Blockchain Traceability

On May 31, 2017, Walmart revealed the results a test that began in October 2016 of blockchain technology in China and the US to develop food safety and traceability protocols.

IBM and Walmart worked together to perform the test on Chinese pork, as reported by ETHNews, and US mangoes, which proved that tracing food origins, a process which once took weeks, could now be handled in 2.2 seconds. Products were digitally tracked with blockchain technology by way of scans as they traveled from farms to Walmart shelves, recording various pertinent product details on an immutable ledger.

Walmart's demonstrable capability to rapidly show the origin of food on the trip from farm to fork may result in savings for customers, give the grocer a better ability to track the sources of contamination and fraud, and aid in compliance with safety standards. In Bentonville, Ark., Walmart's Frank Yiannas, VP of food safety, presented to shareholders during the retailer's Shareholders Week. He said the company has no intention of using blockchain technology competitively and welcomes participation from suppliers, stakeholders, and other retailers.

Contaminants that make people sick are a culprit of consumer woes and can be a costly issue for grocers to tackle. Yiannas provided statistics on the impact of foodborne disease.

"It’s been reported that a 1% reduction in foodborne disease in the U.S. would amount to about a $700 billion saving to the U.S. economy,” Yiannas said. “But it’s more than just cost, it’s people. The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] estimates that about 48 million Americans will experience foodborne illness in the U.S., and the global numbers are even larger.”

Healthier customers might be a boon to Walmarts profits, which are already in the black according to this year's Q1 reports, showing a 1.4 percent uptick in revenue.