4 min read


How to get rid of food recall problems ?
“If you can’t tell where your onions are from, don’t eat them. Throw them away.  If you used recalled onions to make any other food or don’t know where those onions were from, don’t eat the food. “ — cdc.gov
trace and traceability

If that sounds like a message one might have heard in the year 1876, think again. It was posted in Aug of 2020.  That is a true statement from CDC website [resource (1)] and is about a product recall for Salmonella infected onions.  If you think that is a one off message, last year there were 337 food recalls in the USA alone.

We live in times where we have accepted Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) as a substitute for human presence or intervention.  We have complex logistics and distribution networks to move goods efficiently.  But when it comes to the food safety and recall of affected food products, we still seem to be in medieval times.

Why is food recall still handled by TV and Newspaper announcements like a catastrophic announcement with little insight into who is affected?

To understand that better, here is a brief history of the food journey from “Farm to Fork”.  A few hundred years ago, food products traveled very short distances.  The producer and consumer knew each other and it often didn’t change too many hands.  So the “Farm to Fork” journey was just one hop or two.  If something went wrong, it was easy to tell everyone having that food product to discard it.  Slowly the number of hops increased and food distribution went worldwide.  If strawberries are not in season in your region, it gets imported from parts of the world where it is in season.  The Northern and Southern hemispheres have opposite seasons… that has not changed for billions of years.  But what has changed is the ability to distribute fresh produce to anywhere in the world while it’s still fresh.  So the “Farm to Fork” journey is now a complex distribution network, where oftentimes the same food is sold under different labels in different parts of the world.  Along the way we have stopped counting the number of times the food product changes hands and have done very little to actually track it to the fork.  The only information that most products give us is the manufacturing date and the place of origin.  So food recalls are still something to look for in the NEWS.

Is there a way to bring in some semblance of advanced technology into food safety and recall?

Let’s first understand why Food recall is needed.  According to FoodSafety.gov, there are 3 main reasons for food recall:

  1. Discovery of organisms, including bacteria such as Salmonella or parasites such as Cyclospora.
  2. Discovery of foreign objects such as broken glass or metal.
  3. Discovery of a major allergen that does not appear on the product label.

Broadly, we can say that recall can happen for any food item, without exception, as there is always a possibility of it getting contaminated or infected.  It’s also true that the contamination can happen anywhere along the supply chain.  So the farm to fork journey needs to be traced everytime so that it can come in handy during a recall


We now have the technology and the platform that can trace the origin and each step in the journey of a product all the way from the farm to the store shelf or to the fork.

  1. The producer creates a unique tag (QR code, NFC tag, etc.) for each product  or a batch of the products and records the origin and the ingredients.
  2. The producer can add more information about the sourced ingredients.
  3. Each step in the journey can be tagged with Geolocation & Timestamp by the producer and all other actors in the supply chain.  This makes the entire journey traceable.
  4. The same information can be made available to the consumer via a mobile device by just scanning the tag on the product.
  5. If there is any need to recall the product, it’s as simple as notifying that on the platform for that batch (which is uniquely identified by a specific tag).  Since the entire journey is traceable for every batch, the recall can be targeted all the way down to a particular batch.
  6. This gives the shopper more information than the manufacturing date and time.  He can now quickly find out the entire journey of the product and check for any recall notice instantly.

When this is done with Blockchain-based solutions, the recorded data will be stored as transactions on the Blockchain, making it immutable and easily verifiable by anyone.  This is the future of Food recall.


  1. Food recall: https://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls-and-outbreaks
  2. Steps to follow for onion salmonella outbreak https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/newport-07-20/index.html