Manufacturers of Branded Paper Cups, like Scyphus, have to regularly face concerns of customers regarding food safety. Food Packaging is considered by the end user as the barrier between the contaminants in our environment and good, hygienic, contamination free food, and thus a major chunk of the food safety responsibility is seen as to be the responsibility of the packaging industry. Scyphus is often asked whether the Printed Paper Cups are made from virgin paper, or whether, the inks used are food safe, safety and hygiene the manufacturer of paper cups maintain at the plant and so on and so forth.
Most end users are unaware of the fact that food safety lies not only in a good package or a quality cup, the chain of events begin much earlier, specially in case of meat and dairy products, and that is where blockchain based technology is being used to keep a trail and audit of how the food item is moving from source to the end user.
How blockchain is upgrading the food industry
Traceability of contaminated food has always been a tedious affair. Often, it would take food companies and retailers weeks and even months to know what products they need to take down from shelves. Blockchain technology seems to be the ultimate solution for this issue. Several big companies such as Walmart, Nestlé, and Tyson Foods have already embraced blockchain to track food throughout the complex global supply chain. Platforms such as Arc-Net and Provenance have also emerged to ensure quality and security through blockchain technology.
Food traceability is a daunting task
The food industry has succumbed to numerous crises, especially in terms of food-borne illnesses. According to the World Health Organisation, almost 1 in 10 people become ill yearly due to contaminated food, resulting in 420,000 deaths. In the United Kingdom (U.K.), over 500, 000 cases of food poisoning are reported yearly and about 500 result in death. The food supply chain has become so intricate that it is almost impossible for retailers to guarantee the provenance of their products with certainty.
History has proven that there are always malicious individuals ready to tamper with food just for the sake of profits. In the 17th century for instance, fraudsters would dilute milk with water and add chalk to bread to squeeze out as much profit as possible. Evolution of technology in modern times has not really helped in the fight against food crimes. In 2009, the United States was struck by the Salmonella peanut butter outbreak, affecting over 750 consumers, while in 2013 the U.K. and countries in Europe had to face the Horsemeat Scandal where supermarkets were discovered to be inundated with horsemeat labelled as beef and sold to unsuspecting consumers.
Not later than August this year, 15 EU countries, Switzerland and Hong Kong received egg products contaminated by a harmful insecticide and yet having wrongly received a safety standard certification. The U.K. itself is estimated to have received 700, 000 of these eggs, as per data of the Food Standard Agency (FSA). Later that month itself, the Public Health England (PHE) revealed that pork products containing Hepatitis E may have infected thousands of people. The virus was detected in pork originating from Holland, Germany and other mainland European countries.
A report published by PwC shows alarming financial findings as well: the cost of food fraud and adulteration costs £30.5 billion ($40 billion) in excess per annum. Food crimes not only affect consumers but retailers too, who may inadvertently buy or sell adulterated products. Tracing back the real culprits is generally a failure: in the case of the Horsemeat Scandal, it has been impossible to pinpoint the true culprits as suppliers blamed slaughterhouses while the latter blamed the suppliers for distorting facts.
Blockchain can restore trust in food
Blockchain technology may finally put a significant dent in the number of food-borne illnesses and restore trust in food items being produced and consumed worldwide. Currently, farmers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers all use some kind of documentation for tracking purposes. The disquieting fact is that some of them are still on paper and not digitized at all. With the adoption of blockchain technology, traceability of food products is not only guaranteed but can be done within minutes. For instance, if a consumer falls ill after eating lettuce contaminated with E. coli, a food investigator could scan a barcode on the packaging to quickly find out its provenance. Subsequently, retailers may remove contaminated products as rapidly, thus preventing the illness to spread.
Blockchain technology initially emerged for the development of cryptocurrencies. The decentralised system presented as a distributed ledger is used to record transactions across many computers, and is not regulated by a central authority. It provides end-to-end traceability and data, including dates of transactions at any moment in time, cannot be altered retroactively, thus making it a genuinely trustworthy technology for traceability, transparency, quality, safety, and food integrity in the entire production and supply chain.
Blockchain technology is being tested as a breakthrough solution
In the wake of the Horsemeat Scandal, the Irish start-up Arc-Net saw the day with a very clear objective, that is, giving absolute transparency and security to food items while connecting every step of the product’s journey. Architected on blockchain technology and partnering with PwC in Netherlands, Arc-Net’s innovative platform is creating “a new model for food integrity, supply chain security and compliance”. DNA samples from animals, for example, can provide key markers. Arc-Net uses a digital copy of the DNA that is attached to every item or product, thus bringing traceability to item level and not to the batch level. The authenticity can be cross-checked with the blockchain record. Consumers, on their side, may simply use their mobile phones to scan a QR code on the food packaging to receive food safety information regarding the product. They will equally access details about the exact contents and the origin of the product.
In the U.K., Provenance is another small tech start-up sharing the same mission to clarify opaque transactions and provide total and unaltered information to everyone in the food supply chain. The company already has over 200 clients, pioneering a new standard for trust in food retail through its user-friendly software based on blockchain technology. The software tracks fresh produce and product claims, from origin to consumer end. By delivering total traceability, retailers and distributors in the supply chain will also have lighter burdens on their shoulders, being sure of the products they are selling and cutting costs in terms of product recalls and process inefficiencies.
It is considered that a blockchain-based system in the food industry offers far more guarantee that certification programs as it does not depend on trust and does not occur via a central authority, thus completely eliminating the risk of manipulation. Today, the large array of certification seems to fail to meet the genuine purpose which is to ensure quality and safety. Instead, they are increasingly being used for consumer branding.
- Contact Name:
- Leslie Carr
- Scyphus Ltd
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