Dole Provides Sober Perspective on Blockchain’s Importance in Avoiding Food Contamination

C. Dunlap

Summary Bullets:

  • Dole Food is committed to IBM Food Trust to revamp its supply chain operations.
  • Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum are moving towards interoperability via new alliance.

Industry travelers can no longer attend conferences or mega tradeshows such as this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona without being hit with the virtues of blockchain during keynotes and vendor demos. Earlier this month, a Dole Food Company executive offered a sobering account of just how intolerable the food supply chain has become among corporations running their operations on antiquated methods.

Natalie Dyenson, Vice President of Dole’s Food Safety & Quality, reenacted details of the recent outbreak to a horrified audience earlier this month during the IBM Think conference in San Francisco. Last summer’s romaine lettuce outbreak, sourced in Arizona, resulted in five deaths, 96 hospitalizations, and 210 illnesses.

Dyenson revealed that it took the U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) one month to “connect the dots” between reported illnesses and romaine lettuce. While the FDA tracked the contaminated lettuce to three dozen farms as potential contributors to the E. coli, that figure represents a mere 10% of the farms involved. The trouble is Yuma, Arizona alone produces 1.5 billion heads of lettuce, representing 5 billion servings, yet the food industry has not kept up with ways to modernize the process of tracking and documenting these goods. Further illustrating the severity of the problem, following a separate 2017 product outbreak in similar regions, U.S. health officials did not identify the source of the E. coli outbreak to romaine, but instead linked it to a more general “leafy greens” category.

According to Dyenson, Dole is convinced that blockchain helps reduce the scope and proliferation of outbreaks, because blockchain enables transparency and traceability. Dole has been involved in IBM’s early efforts through its Food Trust blockchain initiative. She noted that food documentation and standards procedures not only differ from country to country, but processing is still maintained using methods as antiquated as pencil and paper.

This week, during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, blockchain is well represented throughout the conference as a prominent emerging technology for digital transformations. One high-profile use case presented in the IBM booth involves Mediaocean, a software provider focused on the advertising industry and a partner of an IBM blockchain consortium. The project, which addresses media supply chains and involves dozens of participants, seeks to improve transparency behind media and finance transactions including budget, authorization, orders, verification, invoices, and payments. Ultimately, participants will be able to enable campaigns and monitor transactions in the blockchain, having access to workflow visibility across approved budget to final payment, alongside a consolidated audit record of all transactions.

The blockchain debate rages on as to whether solution providers have equipped global companies with the blockchain network and platform solutions adequate to spur this new market segment and tackle the food and media problems discussed above. The industry continues to make strides, bringing together often competitive vendors through open-source communities in an effort to support agnostic, decentralized networks which will operate in any cloud deployment scenario.

Ultimately, this will be achieved through compatibility between leading blockchain technologies Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum (via Ethereum Virtual Machine/Solidity), with key blockchain participants and communities moving in that direction. Initial efforts are underway through the sharing of smart contracts, enabled through the partnership between Hyperledger and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance late last year to ensure interoperability between solutions. Similarly, HACERA has maintained a registry network, which provides companies with access to existing blockchain networks and solutions built on various frameworks including Hyperledger Fabric, Ethereum Quorum, R3 Cordova, and others. Participating vendors include IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, and others.

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