How IBM is Using Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Safety

January 9, 2019

By Conor White

Blockchain isn't just for cryptocurrency.

Computing behemoth IBM ($IBM) is using the technology to ensure the food we eat is safe and properly sourced.

"We're basically leveraging the blockchain technology to track each item of food as it travels through its trajectory and its transportation from the field all the way to the retailer," Bridget Karlin, chief technology officer for IBM Global Technology Services, told Cheddar's Hope King at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev.

According to Karlin, blockchain is revolutionizing the way big-box retailers like Walmart ($WMT) do business.

"It used to take [Walmart] seven days to track an item from its origin all the way through to their shelves," Karlin said. "With blockchain, now it takes 2.2 seconds."

Walmart is working with IBM to implement blockchain as part of new food safety requirements for its suppliers. The two companies have been collaborating since 2016 to apply new levels of traceability across the food supply chain.

The partnership is part of The Food Trust blockchain, which includes other major forces like Nestlé (NSRGY), Dole ($DOLE), Kroger ($KR), and Tyson Foods (TSN).

In the future, a public health incident like the recent E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated romaine lettuce could be detected much more quickly and accurately.

"Now it's a matter of scaling that out more broadly to more participants," Karlin said.