IBM and Golden State Foods have partnered to provide a new level of transparency and trust to the beef supply chain. Their program helps food companies—retailers, suppliers, growers, and food industry providers—to more easily track where their food comes from.
The program combines radio-frequency identification to automatically track fresh beef’s movement, Internet of Things devices to monitor its temperature, and blockchain technology to orchestrate business rules between parties in the supply chain.
“It’s a complex equation,” says Guilda Javaheri, MBA, chief technology officer, Golden State Foods, Irvine, Calif. “Blockchain has the potential to help us chain events and leverage the exceptional efforts that food suppliers go through to ensure the food we eat is safe, sustainably grown, and fresh.”
Ramesh Gopinath, vice president of supply chain solutions, IBM, Yorktown Heights, N.Y., says there’s a need for such technology because fresh beef has a shelf life between 14 and 20 days. “Before a hamburger lands on a customer’s plate, at least half a dozen businesses—ranches, feedlots, packers, processors, distribution centers, and restaurants—have had a hand in its creation and transportation,” he says. “Each business along that product lifecycle keeps its own records. While software systems are designed to connect them, they require a lot of manual inputs, are prone to errors, and encounter inherent delays. We partnered with Golden State Foods to address that.”
With the partnership’s technology, everyone across the entire supply chain can open a dashboard and see where shipments have gone, the temperature at which they were maintained, and their immediate shelf life. “As a result, restaurant operators know the best time to use a product,” Gopinath says. “And manufacturers and distribution centers can get a jump start on planning their production and shipping schedules.”
Javaheri notes that the current system isn’t broken. However, they are trying to link a supply chain that is inherently decoupled. This requires a lot of energy and resources to link silos of data from thousands of disparate systems. “Blockchain is designed to create data chains for the millions of miles data travels during the transportation process into one, single pane of glass,” she says. “We’re essentially connecting pools of data onto a simultaneous view without overburdening any one link. This is in contrast to today where we expend tremendous effort to track individual footsteps without the benefit of a single rearview mirror.”
With the technology, the partners have been able to reduce the time it takes to trace food from the point of sale to the point of origin from more than six days to 2.2 seconds. “Quick identification can significantly reduce the economic and social impact of outbreaks from foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella, can result in huge cost savings and waste reduction, and can provide the ability to execute recalls with pinpoint precision rather than recalling an entire type of food from every grocery store,” Gopinath says.