Food-poisoning outbreaks have dominated the headlines in 2018 as hundreds of people have reported falling sick from eating infected food.
The romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak has been one of the more memorable cases of the year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning in November advising people across the US to stop eating the lettuce altogether.
Salad chain Sweetgreen was impacted by this nationwide recall as romaine is present in many of its salads. As a result, it pulled the ingredient from stores.
As these food-poisoning outbreaks become more of an issue, Sweetgreen is putting plans in motion to curb the impact of these events in the future and thanks to the $200 million of capital that it received in November, it now has the financial means to do this.
Nicholas Jammet, Sweetgreen’s cofounder and chief product officer, told Business Insider in an interview on Monday that the company is investing in blockchain technology to make its supply chain more transparent.
Blockchain is a secure ledger that allows multiple parties to track and exchange information or money. Walmart recently announced that starting in January, it will require some of its vegetable producers to use blockchain to record different pieces of information, such as when and where their items were planted.
“We are trying to build a system of full traceability to know which farm food comes from and when it is picked,” Jammet said. “For us, that idea of traceability is the biggest protection [against food poisoning].”
This means that if a similar romaine-centric food-poisoning outbreak occurs again, Sweetgreen would know exactly where the lettuce served in each location has come from and when it was picked, making it easier to determine whether it is possible to keep serving it.
“Part of the reason behind that pretty aggressive announcement [the CDC banned romaine nationwide at first] was because they couldn’t pinpoint it. We see a future where there is traceability everywhere,” he said.
Blockchain has other benefits. It would also allow Sweetgreen to track all of the different variables that create a certain flavor in each ingredient. From this, it could then advise customers on when the optimum time is to eat specific ingredients.
“Imagine a world where we track all the elements that go into our great tomatoes,” Jammet said, explaining that Sweetgreen could inform customers whether there was a lot of humidity in the air when these tomatoes were picked, for example, to show whether they could be sweeter on that day.
“That kind of connection is really exciting for us,” he said.