While the frenzy surrounding the meteoric rise in cryptocurrency valuations has taken the media by storm, ground-breaking developments in other applications of blockchain technology have slipped by almost unnoticed.

Blockchain technology will enable consumers to make more informed decisions when purchasing groceries, reduce food waste, and has the potential to halt the spread of illness by contamination and save millions of lives.

For readers who are not yet familiar with this concept, a blockchain is a publically shared, transparent, decentralised ‘append-only’ ledger for recording the history of transactions within a system. In other words, data can only be added to the ledger, the historical data is unalterable, and the integrity of the data is achieved by consensus among distributed parties, rather than a central administrator. The verification process is randomised which means that no one participant can force a particular entry onto the blockchain without the agreement of others.

Tackling the issues concerning food safety is pertinent to everyone, regardless of background, financial status or geographical location. The WHO estimates that globally each year nearly one in 10 people fall ill after eating contaminated food, resulting in just under half a million deaths. In addition, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics and animal welfare when choosing which groceries to buy.

Information regarding each stage of production will be added to a decentralised database, and as the ledger is completely auditable, consumers will be able to gain an understanding of exactly what was required to produce goods.]

Harnessing blockchain for food safety

OwlTing is a prime example of how the power of blockchain technology can be harnessed to improve food safety and transparency. The Taiwanese e-commerce company recently unveiled OwlChain, a platform based on the Ethereum blockchain network, which registers each stage of food production. For instance, before purchasing pork ribs, consumers can view the ledger that traces back to the day of the piglet’s birth, and comprises all the details of the food it consumed and the vaccines it received during rearing, along with the slaughter, processing and transport path.

IBM, Walmart and JD.com, a Fortune Global 500 Chinese retailer, have announced a Blockchain Food Safety Alliance collaboration to improve food tracking and safety by making supply chains more transparent, traceable and accountable. This will revolutionise both the pace at which contaminated food can be recovered and the trust that consumers place in the food they purchase.

The potency of this technology in food production was corroborated recently in a presentation by Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, at the annual Shareholders Week conference. Using conventional methods, it took over six days to reveal the origin of a package of sliced mango. The same result was achieved in just 2.2 seconds when blockchain technology was employed.

The greater efficiency in detecting food contamination will enable distributers to mitigate consequences of abnormalities by taking the appropriate preventative measures. In swiftly handling issues, food safety will increase for the consumer, and it will reduce the likelihood of a producer’s reputation being tarnished by a bad batch.

The dawn of a new era in consumer empowerment has begun. Food traceability is set to soon become a standard, and it is only a matter of time before other industries follow suit and embrace blockchain technology to more effectively manage their supply chains and enable their consumers to see what is required to produce their goods.