Walmart Adopts Blockchain Technology to Get Tainted Food Off Shelves Faster


Walmart is testing the use of blockchain technology as a tool to identify tainted foods and remove them from its shelves more quickly.

“Consumers today want more transparency about where and how a product came to be,” Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, told Fortune. “If you shine a light on the food system, that leads to transparency.”

Currently, Walmart is using blockchain to track pork in China and one “packaged produced item” in the U.S. as a test run for possible wider use later on.

Blockchain is a distributed ledger that creates digital receipts for each element being shipped. These receipts identify every member of the supply chain, from the original location to the shipping company. The database’s strength, according to Bloomberg, is its trustworthiness: it is exceedingly difficult for anyone to make changes in what has been recorded.

“It gives them an ability to have an accounting from origin to completion,” Marshal Cohen, an analyst at researcher NPD Group Inc, told Bloomberg regarding the system. “If there’s an issue with an outbreak of E. coli, this gives them an ability to immediately find where it came from. That’s the difference between days and minutes.”

Using this software should make it easier for Walmart to identify troublesome foods and remove these foods – and only these foods – from its shelves.

“With Blockchain, you can do strategic removals, and let consumers and companies have confidence,” said Yiannas.

The blockchain tools being used by Walmart were developed by the Hyperledger Project, an open source software co-developed by IBM. Walmart first began moving toward a collaboration with IBM to this end in October.

If Walmart decides to adopt blockchain commercially, this system will likely become the largest implementation of the technology to date, Bloomberg notes.

More than 1,000 food borne illness outbreaks are reported every year, with roughly 48 million people afflicted annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco