Ripe.io just got a fresh injection of capital from a very promising source. The still-small startup just raised around $2.4 million USD from numerous investors. Maersk Growth was one of the largest investors this time around, which could be a great omen for Ripe.io’s fledgling blockchain-based food tracking platform.
A ‘blockchain-of-food’ would be a great way to make the entire global food system safer, and far more efficient. Right now, most countries use a ‘one up, one down’ (or one back, one up) system to track food. One up, one down, means that everyone in the food supply chain has to know where they bought the food, and where is going. Past that, a company that handles food has no idea where something originally came from, or where it is ultimately going to be sold.
Ripe.io has already launched a limited platform for its blockchain-of-food that was created to track tomatoes. The so called ‘Internet of Tomatoes’ was designed in collaboration with Analog Devices and Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad restaurant. The level of oversight that the Internet-of-Tomatoes created for Sweetgreen was incredible by modern standards, and is a great jumping-off point for bigger projects.
Ripe.io Brings Blockchain to Sensitive Market
Ripe.io’s Internet-of-Tomatoes was a great example of how much information a blockchain-based tracking platform can deliver to everyone in a supply chain. Not only is it easy to establish chain-of-custody, blockchain is easy to integrate with inexpensive IoT sensing equipment. IoT sensors allow for the growing conditions to be recorded, as well as the conditions that the food encounters on its way to the consumer.
Phil Harris, the cofounder and president of Ripe.io, had this to say to Forbes on why the food industry is ripe for innovation,
“You have the labs, the distributors, the certification, the food safety, the restaurants…our observation was that they weren’t really connected in any meaningful way (because) the data wasn’t being shared (there was) very little collaboration.”
It is easy to overlook the systemic importance of food safety. The food distribution system handles huge amounts of material, and when things go wrong, it can be a real struggle to track down where potentially hazardous food could be lurking. The one up, one down system makes supply chain analysis time-consuming, which can translate into more cases of food-borne illnesses.
Blockchain Could Make Food Safer
While it is unpleasant to think about, food-borne illnesses kill more people in the USA every year than terrorism. In 2016, 98 deaths were attributed to tainted food, which is 44% more than the death-toll from terrorism on mainland US targets in the same year. One of the problems with the food supply is that because food is hard to track, tainted goods may stay on sale, even though authorities know they are potentially deadly.
Frank Yiannas is the Vice President of Food Safety at Walmart. He related a story to Forbes about how difficult tracing a simple box of mangoes can be for a team of professionals. Mr. Yiannas brought a box of mangoes into a meeting, placed it on the table, and told his staff that, “Your traceback exercise starts right now.” The food safety group at Walmart timed how long each piece of information took to get back from a store, or from distributors, then to processors, and ultimately from farmers. The amount of time it took was never released, but it was far too long to ensure safety.
If Walmart had access to a blockchain-based tracking system, the time involved would probably be much smaller. Ripe.io is in a position to create a tracking system that could help companies save money, but also give large retailers the ability to remove tainted food in minutes or hours.
Literally no Downside
Instead of having to do huge amount of research, and track down multiple levels inside a massive distribution network, a blockchain food-tracking platform would allow authorities and retailers to find every potentially tainted item in near-real time, and also examine any instances of possible cross-contamination.
In addition to allowing retailers far greater oversight, blockchain can also help consumers ensure they are getting the quality they pay for. Chinese mega-retailer Alibaba is already working with blockchain-based tracking for high-end food items like Australian beef, which is another example of how blockchain technology has real-world use cases right now.