What blockchain is and isn’t

Blockchain is not bitcoin.

While the technology is often associated with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain has much wider applications. In the produce industry, these include myriad uses within supply chain management (traceability, smart contracts, monitoring freshness, etc.), as well as greater transparency for consumers and even brand marketing.

Simply put, blockchain is a way to structure and track the flow of data associated with a single item such as a pallet or package and to share that data with vetted partners.

A digital ledger—a spreadsheet or database—is created to record every transaction involving an individual item over time.

All along the supply chain, parties with permission (e.g., trade partners) post various information (a “block” of data) from growing location and transit temperatures to delivery dates and more.

“All of this information is chained together, and the chain can’t be broken,” says Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain for Newark, DE-based Produce Marketing Association.

“Blockchain allows us to more clearly ‘see’ everyone within the value chain who comes in contact with and handles our products, from the field through to our customer,” says Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Company, which is participating in a blockchain pilot with Walmart and others.

“It allows us to understand not just where the product is sourced and sold, but how it got there and under what conditions it was handled,” says Goldfield. “It allows the full ecosystem to be illuminated along the entire value chain for all aspects— food safety, traceability, sustainability, and social accountability.”

Justin Patton, director of the Radio Frequency Identification Lab at Auburn University, puts it this way: “It’s serialized information about individual items that you’re sharing in an agreed-upon format with multiple partners.”

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This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.

Karen Raugust is a freelance writer who covers business topics ranging from retailing to the food industry.

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