Can Blockchain Stabilize World’s Fragile Food System?

Blockchain technology promises greater transparency and traceability, better safety and added efficiency within the global food supply chain.

By Chase Guttman

By Chase Guttman July 14, 2022

Western grocery stores are a culinary playground. Featuring brightly lit aisles lined with an unfathomable array of snacks, sweets and staples, they’re a symbol of everything that’s right about modern-day commerce – increased convenience, choice and affordability. They can also exemplify excessive waste, risk and complexity.

After all, the food in grocery stores doesn’t just show up there willy-nilly. Rather, it’s the product of a vast global supply chain that’s extremely large and vulnerable to disruption.

Current events have made that abundantly clear. From the war to COVID-19 to climate change and rampant inflation, the global food system is susceptible to any number of political, economic and environmental risks. As a result, the convenience, low prices and variety to which food consumers have grown accustomed are in jeopardy.

Fortunately, a surprising technological hero might be able to save them: blockchain.


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Although it’s famous for powering cryptocurrency markets, blockchain is now poised to help modernize the food industry. By creating a large, public ledger on which food can be tracked as it traverses the food system – in a way that’s decentralized, distributed and immutable – blockchain promises to improve the food supply chain by making it safer, more efficient and more transparent.

Following Your Food

Multinational food giant Nestlé is one in a growing list of food suppliers deploying blockchain to trace and track every step of a product’s complicated supply chain journey, from seeds to harvest and from transportation to stores.

“People want to know, quite rightly, where ingredients they give to their baby have come from. We wanted a product in which trust meant something,” Chris Tyas, global head of supply chain at Nestlé, told IBM, whose IBM Food Trust helps food producers, transporters and retailers access and share supply chain data using the blockchain.

IBM Food Trust stated that food from across the world is available to consumers today, regardless of the season, location or environment. However, the greater options and accessibility are accompanied by increasing complexity in the food supply chain. Now, the complete history and current location of any food item, along with its accompanying information (i.e., certifications, test data, temperature data) can be readily available in seconds.

Many food manufacturers source ingredients from suppliers all over the world. By allowing them to see where the tomatoes in their tomato sauce came from, or the raisins in their granola bar, blockchain gives consumers a glimpse into a process that’s typically hidden from view.

The technology also helps combat mislabeling, ensuring that products are as fresh, organic or sustainable as advertised. This traceability instills confidence amongst information-hungry customers who are eager to know their food’s origins.

Take the demand for natural and plant-based foods, for example. Shoppers who want to know more about what they’re putting in their bodies can use blockchain-based solutions to diligently track food supplies while producers can better answer their demands for certain types of products with certain kinds of lineage.


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Environmental concerns also loom large. With global warming already impacting yields and changing where certain crops can or cannot be grown, ensuring the integrity of sustainability claims is paramount to the future of food at large – and easier than ever with solutions like the IBM Food Trust.

“Blockchain technology provides new levels of trust and transparency as well as the assurance that products stay true to their claims of sustainability,” IBM said in a 2021 blog post.

Improving Food Safety and Sustainability

Food contamination kills 420,000 individuals every year and affects one in 10 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. That makes safety a crucial aspect of every part of the food supply chain – especially in the event of a recall, in which case actionable food supply chain data could help retailers like Walmart actually save lives.

“In 2016, when the vice president of food safety for the company asked his team to trace a package of sliced mangoes to the source, it took his team six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes. After creating a food traceability system [based on blockchain], Walmart could trace the mangoes stored in its U.S. stores within 2.2 seconds,” Walmart said in a 2021 blog post

“Creating accountability and ensuring transparency across the food supply chain is a necessity rather than an afterthought, especially with food contamination being rampant across the globe.”


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Because its blockchain-based system makes a record every time food changes hands in the supply chain, Walmart can more quickly and more easily pinpoint the source of a foodborne illness outbreak or determine if it has sourced contaminated foods from a given vendor.

“With a blockchain traceability solution, you could scan a product and trace that product back with precision and accuracy to its source in seconds – not days or weeks,” Walmart Vice President of Food Safety Frank Yiannis said in a 2018 YouTube video

“In the future, a customer could potentially scan a bag of salad and know with certainty whether it has been involved in a recall.”

By tracking every aspect of a product’s journey from sea or soil to store, producers can guarantee not only safety but also sustainability. Bumble Bee Foods, for example, uses a blockchain solution from SAP to ensure it’s sourcing fish that’s compatible with its commitment to fair trade fishing.

“We have the ability to track fish the moment it’s caught and as it travels around the world, telling the story of each tuna while positively impacting ecosystems and the lives of the people all the way down the line,” Bumble Bee CIO Tony Costa in a press release

“Bumble Bee has long been an industry leader in tracing its seafood products, and the addition of … blockchain technology allows us to further elevate our efforts in complete transparency with consumers and customers, providing assurance that their fish is fresh and it’s been sourced fairly.”

Along with freshness and sustainability, companies like Bumble Bee can use blockchain to verify authenticity – that is, to help customers verify that tuna is actually tuna.

“Purchasing seafood has become the ultimate guessing game for U.S. consumers,” Beth Lowell, vice president for U.S. campaigns at ocean conservation organization Oceana, said in a press release

“Whether you live in Florida or Kansas, no one is safe from seafood fraud. We need to track our seafood from boat to plate so that consumers can be more confident that the fish they purchase is safe, legal and honestly labeled.”

Bringing Home the Bacon

Blockchain doesn’t just benefit consumers’ health. It also benefits their wealth, as blockchain applications in the food supply chain can help companies stamp out inefficiencies, which creates savings that can be passed on to consumers who are quickly becoming overburdened by inflation. 

“Implementing innovative blockchain solutions helps us get detailed insights into every single event and take informed actions,” Walmart reported

“This enhanced visibility enables us to manage suppliers better, conduct more efficient quality checks, and drastically reduce time and costs at various levels of the supply chain.”

Although it won’t happen overnight, food producers and retailers alike can use new blockchain-based insights to optimize and restructure the fragile food system. If they do, food that’s safe, sustainable and affordable food might soon be on everybody’s table.

Chase Guttman is a technology writer. He’s also an award-winning travel photographer, Emmy-winning drone cinematographer, author, lecturer and instructor. His book, The Handbook of Drone Photography, was one of the first written on the topic and received critical acclaim. Find him at or @chaseguttman.

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