Blockchain In Food Safety: Tracking Food From Farm To Table With Transparency

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Production of consistent quality and safe food that considers “farm-to-fork” production is the cornerstone of a successful food industry. Therefore, coordination of interdependent operations from raw-material manufacturing through to the delivery of the final product is a key component of supply-chain management [1]. The ever-evolving development of global food supply chains (FSCs) and marketplaces led to a massive increase in the trade of goods and information across international boundaries [2]. However, fraud, inefficient transactions, and suboptimal performance within FSCs have raised concerns regarding the authenticity and quality of goods, leading to an urgent need for better information exchange and credibility [3].

Food-supply-chain networks are impacted by diverse factors, such as regulatory policies, cultural norms, human behavior, and globalization. The complexity of these factors poses a significant challenge in analyzing information effectively and managing risks within the sector [4]. There is an urgent need to develop knowledge and technologies to address these challenges and ensure efficient supply-chain management. The international food supply chain has been experiencing tremendous pressure to improve transparency, facilitate trusted information exchange, and enhance the traceability of food products throughout the entire supply chain [5,6].

Businesses around the world have undoubtedly undergone a significant evolution, particularly in the realm of supply-chain management, since, traditional food supply chains have faced several challenges related to food safety, traceability, quality, fraud, inadequate monitoring, and insufficient policies, rendering them obsolete in today’s modern age [7]. Furthermore, the ever-increasing demand from consumers for year-round availability of food products has put immense responsibility on businesses to provide comprehensive information about product-specific attributes, including standards, safety, originality, accuracy, traceability, and provenance throughout the food supply chain [8].

The opacity of food-traceability systems raises concerns over proprietary and intellectual property, largely due to inadequate technology adoption and reliance on paper-based processes [9]. This can risk data accuracy and credibility when sharing sensitive information within the food supply chain. Consistent shared information is vital for successful product tracing and tracking, which traditional supervision systems like bar codes struggle with due to issues like data fragmentation, lack of accuracy, and interoperability [10]. Experts consider blockchain a solution for these FSC challenges, as it can transform supply chain design, organization, and lead to improved visibility and traceability [9].

Blockchain, a digital and decentralized ledger, allows secure information storage and sharing [11,12]. This immutable and transparent ‘chain of blocks’ is attractive for FSCs due to its traceability and resistance to tampering [5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12]. This modern innovation, combining different technologies, is garnering interest from academia and industry for its unique features like self-governance, anonymity, and security [13].

Introduced in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto, blockchain technology functions as a decentralized ledger, enabling consensus on data ownership within the network [14]. Nodes, or individual devices, within this network coordinate independently, eliminating the need for a centralized authority [13]. This technology provides a globally distributed database, controlled and shared by a collective, and is founded on a protocol resistant to human interference [15]. Food supply chains are actively exploring the potential of adopting blockchain technology to enhance their supply-chain management practices [16,17,18,19]. For example, Walmart’s successful blockchain project for monitoring the supply of pork in China and IBM’s blockchain-based food-tracking technology have been launched in 2016. Due to increasing momentum in blockchain adoption in the FSC, Albertsons, one of the most significant food retailers in the United States has joined IBM’s blockchain-based Food Trust network in 2019 together with other significant retail giants such as Walmart and Carrefour [19].

The intricate nature of FSCs suggests that the integration of this distributed ledger technology into the food supply chain can provide more transparency and accessibility of information. However, it shall be noted that there is a significant growth in digital technologies that are working with blockchain to create a synergistic effect and, thus, needs to be discussed.

Food businesses are exploring technologies like blockchain to enhance food safety and traceability. This is evident in the partnership between Walmart, IBM, and Tsinghua University that utilized blockchain for food safety in China [18], and the collaboration between Chinese E-commerce giant, Jindong, and local beef farmers to create a blockchain-enabled product database. Moreover, Alibaba has launched an initiative using blockchain to combat counterfeit food sales, partnering with international producers such as Australia’s Blackmores [20]. However, despite these efforts, blockchain implementations in food supply chains (FSCs) have faced criticism due to the absence of a comprehensive roadmap [21].

The importance of this study lies in exploring the growing use of blockchain in the food supply chain (FSC). Additionally, alongside blockchain, there are other emerging technologies within Industry 4.0 and Web 3.0 that could aid the FSC. These include artificial intelligence, big data analytics, RFIDs, NFC, IoTs, edge computing, cloud computing, among others, contributing to the technological growth supporting the FSC.

Although Gartner [22] forecasted the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2023, consisting of many upcoming Industry 4.0 and Web 3.0 technologies, most recent blockchain-based food traceability and supply-chain frameworks only incorporated a few technologies interoperable with blockchain [23,24,25,26,27,28,29]. However, a review of this body of literature shows the implementation of many of these emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, edge computing, Digital Twins NTFs and metaverse, are either scant or absent in the current blockchain-based food-supply-chain frameworks.

We believe our research will make a significant impact by allowing researchers to explore the interoperability of blockchain with other emerging Industry 4.0 and Web 3.0 technologies. This will, in turn, equip them to develop more sophisticated frameworks for blockchain-based food supply chains.

The primary objective of this review is to thoroughly examine available literature on the implementation of blockchain technology in the food supply chain with the aim of identifying potential opportunities and novel pathways to implement this innovative technology in the FSC. Specifically, this review aims to examine currently available blockchain-based food-supply-chain frameworks and determine potential gaps in current blockchain-based food-supply-chain frameworks. This should enable identifying opportunities that are available for improved blockchain-based frameworks.

The subsequent sections of this research paper are as follows: a discussion about emerging technologies with respect to food supply chain and traceability followed by methodology, findings and discussion, limitations, conclusions, and Appendix A.