Things to Know About Blockchain Food Safety and Traceability

When many of us think of blockchain, we might associate it with the technology used to record and store cryptocurrency transactions. Yes, it’s true that blockchain and Bitcoin go hand-in-hand, but the technology is also used in other applications—including in our food supply chain. Increasingly, we’re seeing it to support food traceability and food safety. 

Blockchain seafood traceability is a relatively new area, but we can expect to see much more of it in the future—especially with growing concerns over transparency and traceability. If you’re a fan of sustainable seafood, it’s a good idea to get to know this technology, and how it can support food safety and traceability.

How Does Blockchain Work for Food Safety & Traceability?

Many industries are getting better, all thanks to blockchain. It’s estimated that by 2025, more than 20% of the top global companies will adopt the technology—and this includes many food companies. 

So, what exactly would this look like?

In the food supply chain, there are several different actors along each step. Between the farmers/fishers, processors, manufacturers, certifying bodies, government organizations, distributors, transport and logistics firms, and retailers, a lot happens at each step. 

Typically, data (dates, origins, processes, certifications, etc.) gets recorded by each actor and is saved on a single server. With blockchain, however, the information is stored on a decentralized, blockchain network—where anyone can access the transaction data. Once data is entered, it cannot be amended or tampered with, providing a level of transparency that’s difficult without this technology. 

Let’s look at one commodity that’s benefiting from blockchain: coffee. Like seafood, the coffee supply chain spans across the globe and is extremely complex. The beans will often go through several different stages before it reaches the consumer. 

With more people wanting to know exactly where their coffee comes from, a blockchain ledger can help to demonstrate the hands the coffee has passed through—from the farmers, to the traders, to the brokers, to the importers, to the roasters, to the packagers. This enhanced traceability also helps to support fair compensation for the producers, many of whom only get around 5% of the value created by the coffee

While it’s beneficial for the producers, blockchain technology is just as helpful for the end consumers. 

Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks continue to plague foods like turkey and Romaine lettuce—so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued warnings to exercise caution with all types of these products in recent years. With blockchain, it’s far easier to identify contamination, determine the source, and take action to stop the spread. 

Not only does blockchain make food safer, but it supports sustainability, too. 

Why Use Blockchain to Track Food Supply Chains?

With every bite of “blockchain food” we’re eating something that’s backed up with a digital ledger that can’t be manipulated. As it’s decentralized, blockchain provides honest data of where food was produced, and the journey it follows through the food supply chain. Nothing can be hidden or altered, so if there’s fraudulent or unsavory activity, it will be made apparent. 

In addition to blockchain food traceability, the technology is also able to support food sustainability in a few other ways:

  • It can provide added assurance for certified food, allowing companies to easily back up claims of organic, fair trade, or sustainably-produced products.
  • It makes it easier to identify points in the supply chain where wastage is common, thus decreasing rates of food spoilage and food waste overall. 
  • If there’s a report of a contaminated item, it’s less of a blind search to find out what should be recalled, supporting food safety and minimizing amounts of unnecessarily wasted food.  

Blockchain can also help to eliminate food fraud. Ultimately, it means that consumers can benefit from the peace of mind that comes with knowing that what they’re eating is actually what they think they’re eating—and for foods that have transparency issues, like seafood, this is great news for eaters. 

Blockchain Application in Seafood Industry

Seafood, as you might know, is one of the most globally-traded commodities, and roughly 40% of it is associated with fraud. In one 2018 study, roughly 70% of UK-sold snapper, was in fact a very different species—one that unfortunately happens to be associated with overfishing. 

Imagine sitting down to a nice, fish dinner—how can you know that your shrimp is actually shrimp and not another aquatic or even non-aquatic species? That’s where the blockchain food supply chain comes in. 

Blockchain is a cost-effective and transparent method to track food’s journey—from sea to supper. When applied to all stages of the seafood supply chain, it goes beyond regulations to prevent food fraud. Considering that the U.S. imports 90% of our seafood and just 1% is tested for fraud, this is a very welcome idea. 

In fact, aside from direct trade seafood, blockchain is one of the only methods we have to ensure seafood transparency and sustainability—which is why you can already find some seafood producers embracing the new blockchain food supply!

Some of the biggest Norwegian seafood producers have partnered with IBM and now use their Food Trust technology to use blockchain to track the path of their naturally sea farmed salmon. A Spanish seafood firm has done the same for their shrimp, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has paved the way for others to follow suit with their 2020 report: Blockchain Application in Seafood Value Chains.

There’s even a new cryptocurrency, Fishcoin, that’s designed to use blockchain to power seafood traceability! Tackling one of blockchain’s biggest obstacles, they reward buyers and sellers with digital vouchers (tokens) in order to incentivize data capture and pass the embedded costs down to those who benefit from the traceability, like restaurants, retailers, and hotels. 

Blockchain Food Safety and Traceability: The Future

We can expect to see an increase in the adoption of blockchain across many industries—including the seafood industry. In addition to blockchain food safety, this technology is bringing about some much-needed transparency and traceability to the food industry, at a time when concerns around seafood sustainability are the greatest. 

Because of the cost and embedded requirements of the technology, we should accept that full-scale adoption won’t happen for some time. Until then, if sustainable seafood is on the menu, we’d recommend getting your Alaskan salmon directly from the fishermen themselves.