Walmart tries using blockchain to take unsafe food off shelves

It could pull bacteria-laden produce before you have a chance to buy it.

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AP Photo/Danny Johnston
AP Photo/Danny Johnston

It's scary when stores have to pull unsafe food. It can take days to pinpoint the batch or supplier that caused the problem, which could lead to people getting sick... or at best, force the store to yank more products than necessary. Walmart believes technology could offer a better way. It's trying out blockchain's distributed ledger as a means of identifying the sources of poisonous food. Digital receipts for the food identify everyone in the supply chain, ranging from the original location through to the inspectors and shipping companies. If everything passing through a specific warehouse is making people ill, Walmart can identify that troublesome food and yank it within minutes -- and there's no easy way for unscrupulous suppliers to alter the info.

It's a modest test run at the moment. Walmart is only using blockchain to track both pork in China and a "packaged produced item" in the US. Provided the trial run goes smoothly, though, you'll see the tech used for more items.

Walmart isn't conducting this experiment purely out of concern for customer safety, as you might guess -- this is a company at once famous and notorious for its cost-cutting measures. Blockchain could keep more products on sale in the event of a bacterial outbreak, and refine the supply chain by identifying recurring safety issues or slowdowns. All told, the big-box store could save money even as it saves you from a trip to the hospital.

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