In North America today, the vast majority of the food we consume is purchased from a store rather than grown in our own backyard. Because of this, food is often transported long distances and may pass through many hands from the time it is picked or produced to the time it reaches our shopping carts. With so many steps from farm to table, it can be difficult to know where our food originates and what path it takes to reach us. Outbreaks of food-borne illness such as E. coli spread rapidly, in part due to this uncertainty surrounding our food. When it is difficult to trace where our food comes from, it becomes difficult to identify where the illness originated and who else may be at risk. This remains a problem throughout the USA and Canada that our supply chains struggle to overcome.
Blockchain technology may be the answer. Through blockchain, an encrypted and secure ledger of all transactions is created and maintained, allowing for an accurate record of all interactions people may have had with the food. Using this ledger, companies could easily work backwards from a tainted batch of lettuce at a Walmart, through the supply chain to find the farm from which it originated or the plant at which it was packed. Contaminated food could be destroyed quickly, and non-contaminated food would not be wasted due to uncertainty. Outbreaks could be handled more rapidly and food safety would continue to improve. This certainly would benefit not just the companies who sell food, but also all consumers who purchase and eat said food. Blockchain would allow consumers to be certain that the food they consume is traceable and its history is known.
The benefits of blockchain within supply chains extend beyond food. Items like vaccines or medications must be traceable and verified to ensure the safety of the product. Using blockchain in the same way as it may be used with food would help to provide more certainty of the history of the medicine as it moves from manufacturing plant to the pharmacy. Blockchain can also help supply chains in instances of shorts or damages, where items can be traced through transactions and responsibility can be assigned accordingly. While the technology is fairly new to supply chains, it's possible uses and benefits continue to expand.