No More Iceberg Lettuce, Please!

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While Thanksgiving dinner was not ruined, it certainly was impacted by the romaine lettuce debacle.  Fortunately, salad is not the crown jewel of most holiday meals but being forced to create a salad with iceberg lettuce (it is my husband’s favorite – yuck!) was disappointing.  What was more concerning was the fact that it took well over a week to determine the source of the outbreak; after every supermarket, restaurant and kitchen was asked to destroy their lettuce.  This, of course, is not the first time there has been a problem with this particular product. Back in April of this year over 210 people became ill, 75 were hospitalized and 5 died from E. coli tainted romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona.  

Why is romaine lettuce relevant to our profession?  It is a Supply Chain issue and one that has the attention of companies like IBM and Walmart.  Perhaps it was the outbreak in April of this year that had Walmart ramp up their efforts to use blockchain technology to increase food safety.  According to an article “Total recall:  Latest E.coli outbreak illustrates implementation need for blockchain” there is a growing role for traceability technologies, including blockchain.  “Blockchain is a technology that is based upon transparency and validity,” explains Angel Versetti, Co-Founder and CEO of Ambrosus, a globally decentralized blockchain and IoT platform in a recent interview with FoodIngredientsFirst. “Data that is stored on a blockchain is not only immutable (insofar as it cannot be changed), but it is also a means of ensuring accountability. Companies who opt to track their produce or the quality of their food on a blockchain are essentially organizing their inventories in a way where trust is publicly demonstrated, and the quality of a product can be verified by a third party.”

Walmart has partnered with IBM and joined the IBM Food Trust Platform which is designed to “enable organizations in the food industry to provide safer food at lower costs.”  Walmart and Sam’s Club has gone as far as requesting suppliers to trace their products all the way back to the farm using blockchain technology. “Walmart says suppliers are expected to have all these systems in place by this time next year. Walmart says that all fresh leafy greens suppliers are expected to be able to trace their products back to farm(s) (by production lot) in seconds – not days. To do this, suppliers will be required to capture digital, end-to-end traceability event information using the IBM Food Trust network.”

Food safety is but one use for Blockchain technology.  According to SupplyChain 247: “Some supply chains are already using the technology, and experts suggest blockchain could become a universal supply chain operating system” (Spend Matters) before long.  Consider how this technology could improve the following tasks:

  • Recording the quantity and transfer of assets – like pallets, trailers, containers, etc. – as they move between supply chain nodes
  • Tracking purchase orders, change orders, receipts, shipment notifications, or other trade-related documents
  • Assigning or verifying certifications or certain properties of physical products; for example, determining if a food product is organic or fair trade
  • Linking physical goods to serial numbers, bar codes, digital tags like RFID, etc.
  • Sharing information about manufacturing process, assembly, delivery, and maintenance of products with suppliers and vendors”

Blockchain is not a technology of the future, it is here!  As a profession, we need to get educated as quickly as possible to determine where it might fit in our Supply Chain.  Part of our role as advisors to our business is to help lead the way in identifying new technologies and opportunities to increase value to our customers.  Being forced to eat iceberg lettuce was a friendly reminder that blockchain is needed and it’s needed now.

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . . .

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Anne Kohler
Anne has been leading consulting and financial management organizations for over 25 years. She has extensive expertise in Strategic Sourcing, change management, contracting & contract management (both the buy side and sell side) organizational design and supply chain management. Anne has a passion for collaborating and educating her clients while helping them to uncover hidden value in their organizations. In addition, Anne has been named by Supply & Demand Chain Executive as a “Top 100 Provider Pro to Know” every year since 2007 and a 2013 Top Female Supply Chain executive.

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