By Ashley Nickle
Conversation around traceability accelerated in 2018 as more foodborne illness outbreaks were connected to fresh produce, including two more to romaine lettuce. Frank Yiannas, the vice president of food safety for Walmart and one of the most vocal advocates for the technology as a way to improve traceability, became deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration this year. That change came a few months after Walmart announced it would require blockchain for its leafy greens suppliers in the wake of more outbreaks.
In the wake of back-to-back foodborne illness outbreaks linked to leafy greens, Walmart wants its leafy greens suppliers to have blockchain-enabled traceability in place by this time next year.
Direct suppliers will need to have one-step-back traceability on the network by Jan. 31, and end-to-end traceability is expected by Sept. 30, 2019, according to the letter the company sent to suppliers.
“We’re committed to providing our customers with safe, quality foods,” vice president of food safety Frank Yiannas said in a news release. “Our customers deserve a more transparent supply chain. We felt the one-step-up and one-step-back model of food traceability was outdated for the 21st century.”
The company consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and determined that better traceability would make a difference in outbreak investigations.
Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for the Produce Marketing Association, served as an industry representative on Walmart and Wegmans pilots of the technology, and he explained that companies participating in the Produce Traceability Initiative already have the key pieces in place to join the network without much more work
“The requirement for PTI case labeling has been in effect for Walmart’s produce suppliers since the end of 2013,” Treacy said. “As well, their requirement of the use of electronic advance shipment notifications (ASNs) has been in effect for fresh produce since 2017. These are the two foundational requirements needed to be compliant with the blockchain request.
“If (companies) are labeling their cases with PTI-compliant labels and sending ASNs to Walmart already, the remaining steps should be relatively simple,” Treacy said. “If they choose to participate at the level that gives them access to the full supply chain transparency information on the blockchain as well as take advantage of the certificate management module for food safety and other market access audits using the Trellis framework, they should expect to see an increase in operating efficiencies.”
Berry company Naturipe Farms, Salinas, Calif., is joining a group of food companies using blockchain technology to improve food safety and cut waste.
The companies are working with SAP in an effort to improve the food supply chain, according to a news release.
“Currently, food supply chain stakeholders record their own product information and share only if necessary,” Carol McMillan, director of IT for Naturipe Farms, said in a news release. “The goal is to help create a system with higher trust and transparency between companies to increase speed and operational simplification.”
CHICAGO — Blockchain isn’t about stepping on the competition to gain a better position, advocates said at a United FreshTEC session.
The session, “Increasing Consumer Confidence and Improving Business Operations with Big Data,” was moderated by United Fresh Produce Association’s Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology.
“Everyone benefits if everyone participates,” said Tejas Bhatt, senior director of food safety innovations for Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart. “There is a shared value proposition for everybody.”
An unfamiliar concept for many at the start of 2017, blockchain now has sufficient interest from the produce industry that the Produce Marketing Association has formed a task force to follow its development and will be working with retailer pilots of the technology.
Walmart brought blockchain to the forefront when it conducted a U.S. trial with sliced mangoes and in August partnered with IBM, Dole and Driscoll’s to further test the digital ledger technology, which companies believe could significantly improve food safety and operational efficiency.
Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for PMA, will serve as an industry representative on Walmart and Wegmans pilots, to provide insight on how the technology could work for produce.