When we plan our editorial calendar, we try to reference the timelines of big events in our industry, so that our coverage is timely.
So, upon planning the May 2018 issue and seeing that the FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation of Food (STF) rule would be going into effect for small and md-size businesses the month prior, it seemed to me that the STF would likely be something individuals in the industry would want to know more about.
What I didn’t plan for a year ago is how much the experts in this field would want to talk about blockchain technology. It seems that in the past few months I’ve received an e-mail with the word blockchain in it at least once a week. While not quite as ubiquitous as the phrase Internet of Things, it’s definitely the new buzzword.
I don’t have a pithy way of describing blockchain technology yet, as I did for IoT—I used to describe it as your toaster having a Facebook page and posting status updates to your fridge. The best I can do now is to quote other definitions, which describe it as a digital, distributed ledger.
When I started interviewing people for the STF article and blockchain kept coming up, I was really only familiar with it in terms of Bitcoin, which uses the technology to fuel the cryptocurrency payment system. To get a better handle on all of this, I went to the one person I know who owns Bitcoin—our office’s IT support admin. We had about an hour-long conversation about the trend, and when I talked about blockchain in terms of food safety, he got a spark in his eye and said, “Yep, I definitely can see how that would be useful.”
That’s the same enthusiasm I was met with when interviewing a number of the experts about blockchain technology being applied to ensure food safety in the entire supply chain. Experts are envisioning this as unlocking the capability of a true end-to-end communication and verification food safety tool, used throughout the supply chain from grower to retailer, making all the information visible by all parties.
Blockchain is just one of the transformative technologies to watch in the next few years. Some of the others are artificial intelligence and mixed (virtual and augmented) realities, which are both especially useful in the context of plant operations.
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, these concepts are not all that new,” I hear you, but what could change the game is the sophistication of the technologies and how they are going to be applied and used in the modern manufacturing facility.
Also, one other important factor to consider is this—5G is coming soon, and that could open up a lot of opportunity in connecting people, tools and equipment.