IBM system monitors food supply chains in China

The system will monitor the food supply chain in China's Shandong Province

IBM is helping a Chinese state-owned firm to monitor food safety in the country, by building a new system meant to prevent tainted products from being sold to consumers.

IBM said on Thursday it developed the system with Shandong Commercial Group, a company with more than 70 of its own "Inzone" large retail stores in the country. The 195 million yuan (US$30.5 million) system will allow the Chinese company to track food products across the supply chain, from farms up to retailers. If a consumer becomes sick after consuming tainted food, the system can better pinpoint which products should be removed, while keeping the safe products in stock.

The system is being deployed in China's Shandong province, a major producer of pork and agriculture in the country, said IBM spokeswoman Harriet Ip. Shandong's provincial government requested a system be made to limit bad pork products from being sold to consumers.

In 2010, Shandong Commercial Group and IBM began work on the system, which first started as a pilot project to monitor production at select slaughterhouses and warehouses.

IBM provided the software and system architecture to the project. In the case of pork production, the food is monitored by first tagging pigs with bar codes and using cameras to record their movement. Shipping trucks have been installed with temperature and humidity sensors, along with global positioning, to ensure the meat arrives to retailers under safe conditions.

The system is the first of its kind for IBM, although the company is also working on projects in the area of food monitoring in other parts of Asia such as Vietnam and Thailand, Ip said.

The project will be implemented over a three year period, ending in 2013. Major food products including pork, beef, and vegetables, will be monitored by the system.

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