For HHS, blockchain means faster ID management and safer mangoes

The Department of Health and Human Services already uses blockchain in its acquisition shop to buy bulk items more cheaply, but now the Food and Drug Administration sees as a tool to manage threats to the global food supply chain.

Frank Yiannas, FDA, Food and Drug Administration
Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response

Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, said the agency looks to use blockchain to pinpoint the source of food safety concerns in a matter of minutes, not days.

As a former vice president for food safety at Walmart and director of safety and health at Walt Disney World Company, Yiannas said the distributed ledger technology makes a perfect match for a global and decentralized food system.

“I can assure you we’re not chasing blockchain technology just because it’s cool, it’s in the news and it makes stock prices go up. But I do believe it’s a good solution for the future. This is why I’ve been pursuing this holy grail of trying to create a digital food system and greater traceability and transparency,” Yiannas said Wednesday at the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC)’s emerging tech conference.

FDA’s push toward tech-driven food safety stems from a multistate outbreak of E. coli in November. The agency urged the public to avoid eating romaine lettuce, and requested restaurants and grocery stores to pull it from kitchens and shelves. It took several days for the FDA to track the contamination to a few farms in California.

“The damage that that does to consumer trust is hard to really fully measure,”  Yiannas said. “And while the food system is pretty safe, unfortunately, these incidents happen.”

In response to that incident, Yiannas and FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless released a statement in April calling for a “new era of smarter food safety” in which the agency leverages data to track food at every point in the supply chain.

“It’s not a slogan. It really…

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