Blockchain technology, which so far is best known for digital currency known as bitcoin, will now be used by IBM and a consortium of food providers as well as retailers in an attempt to improve food safety.

Blockchain is a system through which shared records of data are maintained across computer networks rather than a third party. It is a decentralized and distributed digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network, according to Wikipedia.

IBM will work with a broad range of partners in an effort “to further strengthen consumer confidence in the global food system” from field to store shelves.

Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart are also part of the effort.

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IBM, which operates one of its largest campuses in RTP and employs several thousand people across North Carolina, is emerging as a major advocate for blockchain technology, from bitcoins and cryptocurrency to other uses.

“Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth,” said Marie Wieck, general manager for IBM Blockchain, in the announcement of the food chain effort.

“Our work with organizations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM’s new platform, will further unleash the vast potential of this exciting technology, making it faster for organizations of all sizes and in all industries to move from concept to production to improve the way business gets done.”

The partners noted that one-in-10 people “fall ill” with 400,000 people dying each year due to contaminated food.

Rapid checks of foods will be available through the blockchain system, they noted in a joint announcement.

“In the case of the global food supply chain, all participants – growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers – can gain permissioned access to known and trusted information regarding the origin and state of food for their transactions,” the companies said.

“This can enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in a short amount of time to ensure safe removal from store shelves and stem the spread of illnesses.”

IBM has developed an integrated blockchain platform that enables companies to jointly develop, govern and secure networks from real estate to medical data.

“Safety is a key value for Kroger, and our partnership with IBM positions us to explore and test blockchain technology as a solution for enhanced food safety across our business,” said Howard Popoola, Kroger’s vice president of Corporate Food Technology and Regulatory Compliance. “Food safety is a universal priority for food retailers and companies. It’s not a competitive advantage; it benefits our customers to have greater transparency and traceability in the supply chain.”

Added Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety at Walmart:

“Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system – equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors. It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all.”