Fighting food allergies can be as easy as scanning a barcode (via Shutterstock).

Iota is using distributed ledger to fight deadly allergy attacks

By scanning a barcode with a smartphone, consumers will be able to see every allergen in their food

On July 17, 2016, 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse bought an artichoke, olive, and tapenade baguette at a Pret a Manger in Heathrow Airport, intending to eat it on a flight from London to Nice, France. A severe allergy sufferer, she looked for sesame seeds on the roll and on the label, and found none. But they had been baked into the bread. That misinformation killed her.

The Iota Foundation announced a partnership with Scottish food safety software firm Primority on June 20 that will use distributed ledger technology (DLT) to make it easier for allergy sufferers like Ednan-Laperouse to protect themselves from dangerous foods.

More than 5.6 million American children—one in 13—have a food allergy, according to a study of more than 38,000 children published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in December 2018. Of those, more than 2.3 million have had a reaction severe enough to send them to an emergency room, at a cost of at least $24.8 billion. Among adults, the number of allergy sufferers rises to more than 1 in 10. And for reasons scientists don’t understand, the number is rising fast, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The partnership between Iota and Primority is building a consumer-focused DApp that will allow shoppers to scan a barcode on a food package to see not only what allergens like peanuts or shellfish it contains, but also what ingredients were used in other products produced in that facility. In many ways, it will be similar to the way French supermarket chain Carrefour uses the IBM Food Trust blockchain to let customers see every stop organic chickens made between the farm and the store shelves.

By linking the Iota-powered AllerSafe app into Primority’s existing 3iVerify food safety standard compliance software, the companies believe they can give consumers access to the kind of information that is known to food producers and food safety and quality regulators, but cannot fit on a package.

“[T]he entire food industry can open up their databases on allergens directly to consumers, without sharing any sensitive information to competitors,” said Jens Munch, head of supply chain and global trade at the Iota Foundation. “It shows the power of a permissionless ledger and how it can drive an infrastructure serving the public good.”

Iota said its open-source and permissionless distributed ledger is not a blockchain, but rather a secure, scalable, and feeless transaction settlement system it calls the Tangle. This “does not consist of transactions grouped into blocks and stored in sequential chains, but as a stream of individual transactions entangled together,” according to the nonprofit’s website. “In order to make a transaction in the Tangle, two previous transactions must be validated, with the reward for doing so being the validation of your own transaction by some subsequent transaction. With this ‘pay-it-forward’ system of validations, there is no need to offer financial rewards.”

A fixed number of Iota tokens (MIOTA) were created at launch and will never increase, meaning the tokens will rise in value if the ledger takes off.

“The motivation for [the Allersafe] App was driven by the tragic events that occurred in the last few years resulting in the needless deaths of several people who unsuspectingly consumed products containing deadly allergens,” said Primority CTO James Flynn. “We wanted to show that solutions for this problem exist, are low cost, and can be highly effective.”

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Leo Jakobson, Modern Consensus editor-in-chief, is a New York-based journalist who has traveled the world writing about incentive travel. He has also covered consumer and employee engagement, small business, the East Coast side of the Internet boom and bust, and New York City crime, nightlife, and politics. Disclosure: Jakobson has put some 401k money into Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.