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Blockchain is a hot topic today, and the food industry is no exception. But this technology and its implications are not always easy to understand. What exactly is blockchain, and how can it be used to improve food safety worldwide? We explore the current applications and future possibilities of this emerging technology, and consider how blockchain can help provide safe food for consumers everywhere.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a database that records digital transactions in secure and transparent way. Blockchains have three major characteristics:

  • Blockchains are public. Everyone participating in the blockchain can view the transactions, which are stored in “blocks.”
  • Blockchains are decentralized. No single party owns the blockchain. All participants first must reach a consensus (via an algorithm) before any transaction can be added to the chain. This means greater trust of the data stored in the blockchain.
  • Blockchain is secure. Data in the blocks cannot be altered, and blocks can only be added to the chain, never removed—making a blockchain database highly secure.


Application to the food industry

The promise of blockchain for the food industry lies in its ability to provide a fully automated system for complete traceability.

Imagine if all players in a supply chain, from raw material supplier to retailer, pushed their data to the blockchain. All transactions executed by and between these partners would be automatically added to the blockchain, showing a full record of the supply chain and any changes made to it—such as updated supplier facilities, certifications, and product composition. Ultimately, every supply chain participant would end up with a supply chain that is not just fully transparent, but also fully traceable, for any point in time.

This has significant implications for the way food companies approach food safety issues such as recalls and fraud. With a full traceability system, provided by blockchain, supply chain stakeholders would have the ability to “go back in time” and identify the exact moment the data in question was changed. Coupled with their secure nature, blockchains provide food companies with a detailed and trustworthy database of complete supply chain knowledge.


Maximizing the power of blockchain

As of today, blockchain is still a new technology that is rapidly changing. Its application to food safety is still in the early stages, and use of the technology still has plenty of room to evolve.

We see three essential requirements that should be addressed for blockchain to achieve its full potential in the food industry:

    1. Sharing data
      Blockchains are powerful from a security perspective, but they still rely on connected supply chain data. To provide a complete picture of the supply chain, data cannot exist in isolation but rather be shared between suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers. Food businesses therefore should first focus on collaborating with their supply chain partners to discover, map, and digitize their end-to-end supply chains, before tackling blockchain. It is only when this first step has been achieved that the blockchain can be of any real value to supply chain partners.

In addition, data is only valuable if it is accurate. Food companies must develop methods to ensure the data declared by their suppliers and clients, such as food safety and quality certifications, is verified. Without these checks, blockchains can still be created, but not necessarily trusted.

  • Creating consortia
    Consortia enable food businesses to work together to develop agreed-upon standards and infrastructure, which is key for emerging technologies such as blockchain. Collaboration between successful food companies ensures everyone has a say in determining the best way to harness the power of blockchain for the food industry. By getting involved in organizations such as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), food businesses can ensure they have access to the network and platform needed to effectively collaborate with others.


  1. Achieving the right balance
    Beyond the practicalities of blockchain, a bigger question remains: exactly what information can, and should, be shared? Blockchain’s appeal comes from the fact that it is a transparent, and therefore trustworthy, database. But even public blockchains encrypt the details of each transaction, with full access provided only to those designated by the transaction owner.

When it comes to the food industry, some information, such as quality certifications, clearly benefit from public visibility. But other data, such as recipes or supplier practices, are proprietary and should remain private. Which begs the question: how much information should be shared, and with whom, to safeguard confidential information while still providing transparency? And to go a step further: what is the right way to communicate blockchain data to consumers?

As we are still in the early days of blockchain, we have not yet determined the right balance between public and private blockchains, and it will take time to develop. Food businesses therefore need to discuss and collaborate to determine the right model before blockchain can reach its full potential for enhancing food safety.


Provide safe food for consumers everywhere

Blockchain technology holds great promise for food safety, with the potential to provide greater security, transparency, traceability, and trust. Yet it is only through collaboration within the food industry that the power of blockchain can be effectively used. The GFSI’s upcoming Global Food Safety Conference provides the ideal forum for retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, and other key actors of the industry to discuss new solutions for food safety and support the GFSI’s goal of providing safe food for consumers, everywhere.

Transparency-One is proud to support the GFSI as a Diamond Sponsor of the Global Food Safety Conference. Come visit us at booth 111 or find us at the Big Data panel on Wednesday, March 7, to learn how we can harness blockchain technology for improved food safety. Collaboration is key for providing safe food for consumers, and we look forward to discussing the future of supply chain transparency at this landmark event.




This post was written and contributed by:

KellyAnn Tsai
Director of Marketing


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