Walmart has introduced a new food safety programme that requires leafy green suppliers to use a blockchain-based solution in what is called the Walmart Food Traceability Initiative. Working with IBM and its Food Trust Network to develop the programme, the aim is to provide suppliers with the tools required to trace produce from farm to store in real time. The system enables secure and trusted digitalised data sharing, granting more access to information relevant to suppliers.

Approximately a year from now, suppliers will be required to use the IBM system to record digital traceability event information. Walmart has notified suppliers of this change.

“Customers trust us to help them put quality food on their tables for themselves and their families. We have to go further than offering great food at an everyday low price. Our customers need to know they can trust us to help ensure that food is safe. These new requirements will help us do just that,” said executive vice president for food for Walmart US, Charles Redfield.

The push for traceability systems stems from recent product recalls related to concerns of salmonella and E. coli contaminations.

“Although the FDA and CDC were able to inform consumers, producers and retailers that the romaine lettuce associated with illnesses cam from the Yuma (Arizona) growing region in general, health officials and industry professionals were unable to quickly determine which lots were affected and which were not. This resulted in millions of bags and heads of romaine lettuce having to be removed from the marketplace and a loss of consumer confidence in romaine lettuce, regardless of growing region, as well as negatively affecting the economic livelihood of many, including farmers,” said Walmart in its letter to suppliers.

“Walmart believes the current one-step-up and one-step-back model of food traceability is outdated for the 21st century and that, by working together, we can do better.”

“It was difficult for consumers to know how to determine where their lettuce was grown. None of the bags of salad had ‘Yuma, Arizona’ on them. In the future, using the technology we’re requiring, a customer could potentially scan a bag of salad and know with certainty where it came from,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart.

The solution using IBM systems has been tested with a number of Walmart suppliers over the past 18 months to ensure its effectiveness and found produce from Walmart stores could be traced back to its source in a matter of seconds as opposed to days or weeks using previous methods.

“The food system is absolutely too large for any single entity to [track]. We’ve been working with IBM to digitise that so the information is captured on the farm with a handheld system. It’s [also] captured at the packing house at the supplier,” said Yiannas.