A Carrefour store in Africa. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
A Carrefour store in Africa. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

London — Europe’s largest retailer Carrefour has adopted blockchain ledger technology to track and trace chicken, eggs and tomatoes as they travel from farms to shops, and will deploy it across all of its fresh product lines in coming years.

The French retail giant said it would rely on blockchain technology developed by IBM, which was working with retailers, logistics firms and growers to roll out systems to secure their global supply chains.

The technology, called IBM Food Trust, enabled the industry to track and share information on how products were grown, processed and shipped.

The technology cut the time needed to check the provenance of food from days or weeks to seconds, IBM said.

Blockchain, best known as the technology underlying cryptocurrency bitcoin, is a shared record of data kept by a network of individual computers rather than a single party.

Proponents say it has the power to transform industries, from finance to real estate, but so far there has not been much of its large-scale application.

Carrefour secretary-general Laurent Vallee said the group would widen its use of the system to its 300 fresh products across the world by 2022, securing a safe supply chain and enabling customers to trust in their food.

"The key thing for us … is to be able to say when there is a crisis that we have the blockchain technology, so we are able to trace products and tell [their] story," he said.

Outbreaks of salmonella linked to eggs and poultry are a challenge for the food industry. Nearly 207-million eggs from a North Carolina farm possibly contaminated with the organism were recalled in April, while the number of salmonella food poisoning cases in the EU is rising.

IBM said global businesses would pay about $212,000 a year for full use of Food Trust, now available worldwide.

Still, mass adoption of the technology could face hurdles, said Simon Ellis of US-based market research firm IDC.

"Effort to convince growers to participate is not a minimal one," he said. "Growers and farmers exist at dramatically different levels of technological sophistication.," he said.