The move is in response to recent food safety issues, says the company, and is intended to improve the traceability of food products to help public officials investigate and find the source of food-borne disease outbreaks. The end-to-end traceability system is based on distributed ledger technology developed by IBM.
“While fresh leafy greens are overwhelmingly safe when you consider per capita consumption rates and they are an important and healthy part of a person’s diet, unfortunately, over the past decade, there have been multiple high profile recalls and outbreaks associated with these types of products,” the company said in its open letter to suppliers. “In fact, this year, the United States experienced a large, multistate outbreak of E coli O157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce. All in all, the outbreak resulted in 210 confirmed cases, caused 96 hospitalizations, and tragically five deaths.”
While public officials were ultimately able to determine the source of the contaminated romaine lettuce, says the company, health officials and industry professionals were unable to quickly determine which lots were affected and which were not, resulting in millions of bags and heads of romaine lettuce having to be removed from the marketplace. This not only caused a loss of consumer confidence in romaine lettuce in general, it also negatively affected the economic livelihood of many, including farmers.
“There is no question that there is a strong public-health and business-case for enhanced food traceability,” the company said. “By quickly tracing leafy greens back to source during an outbreak using recent advances in new and emerging technologies, impacts to human health can be minimized, health officials can conduct rapid and more thorough root cause analysis to inform future prevention efforts, and the implication and associated-losses of unaffected products that are inaccurately linked to an outbreak can be avoided.”
The company has piloted new technology in collaboration with numerous suppliers and IBM over the past 18 months and says that it has demonstrated that “meaningful enhancements” to food traceability is possible. Using the blockchain-enabled IBM Food Trust network, says the company, it has shown that the amount of time it takes to track a food item from a Walmart Store back to a source can be reduced to seconds, as compared to days or sometimes weeks.
“Customers trust us to help them put quality food on their tables for themselves and their families,” says Charles Redfield, executive vice president of food for Walmart U.S. “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.”
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