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Walmart tells salad growers: If you want to sell to us, you have to blockchain

By GEOFFREY MOHAN
Los Angeles Times

September 25. 2018 10:57PM
By the end of January 2020, Walmart will require California-based produce companies such as Dole, Taylor Farms and Fresh Express to join a blockchain-based supply chain that the mega-retailer has been experimenting with for nearly two years to enable Walmart to trace the source of food-borne illness. (DREAMSTIME/TNS)



Produce companies that want to sell lettuce and salads at Walmart and Sam's Clubs will have to learn the skills of cryptocurrency traders, the giant retailer announced Monday.

By the end of January, 2020, Walmart will require California-based produce companies such as Dole, Taylor Farms and Fresh Express to join a blockchain-based supply chain that the mega-retailer has been experimenting with for nearly two years to enable Walmart to trace the source of food-borne illness.

Shifting to the encrypted system of shared information made famous by bitcoin would enable Walmart and its suppliers to contain and limit recalls involving Walmart and Sam's Club stores, a $280 billion grocery empire.

"We're requiring our suppliers of fresh leafy greens to be able to trace back their product to the source, to the farms, in seconds and not days or weeks," Frank Yiannas, Walmart's vice president for food safety, said Monday.

The move by Walmart could upend the way the produce industry controls its supply lines — a system that lags behind not just last century's "digital age," but the current era of "smart" interconnected devices and data encryption capabilities.

Produce companies centered in the Salinas Valley and Yuma, Ariz., were hit hard this year by a nationwide scare over romaine lettuce tainted with E. coli bacteria.

Five people died and 205 were sickened in the 36-state outbreak that began in April and prompted an unusual national advisory for consumers to avoid any lettuce grown in the Yuma region.

Consumers were largely baffled and unable to find out where their lettuce was grown, officials acknowledged at the time.

The strain of bacteria responsible for the illnesses was found in a Yuma-area irrigation canal, but only one farm was identified as a source of an isolated group of illnesses among Alaska prisoners.

Authorities believe there were multiple farms that grew tainted lettuce but were unable to prove the thesis before lettuce production halted in the region. By the time it was declared over in July, the outbreak was the most extensive and deadly ever to hit the produce industry.

"The time is now for a better way to tackle the issue of food traceability," Yiannas said. "There's a strong public health case as well as a business case for doing so."


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