Cherry Central Farmers Use IBM Analytics to Trace Food Supply Chain

Farmers cooperative Cherry Central is using IBM's DB2 Web Query platform to trace food through the supply chain with the goal of improving food safety.

Cherry Central, a cooperative of fruit and vegetable growers, is using IBM's DB2 Web Query analytics platform to track fruits and vegetables to boost food safety.

N2N Global, IBM's business partner, has built a business analytics platform for the cooperative using DB2 running on the IBM Power System platform to trace products throughout the food distribution process, Steve Eiseler, vice president of operations at Cherry Central, told eWEEK.

Cherry Central traces fruit and vegetables from harvest through the distribution warehouse and to the grocery store and consumers. In real time, Cherry Central collects, views, aggregates and analyzes data, which is growing at a rate of 1.6 million records per month, IBM reports.

Food-related diseases afflict 48 million people, or one in six Americans per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"IBM is committed to bringing advanced capabilities such as analytics to clients and business partners to help them transform the way they deliver their products and services to their clients," Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM Midmarket Business, said in a statement.

Cherry Central collects data on mobile devices such as the Motorola ES400 rugged handheld, according to Randy Odom, director of sales and marketing for N2N Global. They can see the date, time and location of the food items as well as details on food-safety compliance.

"Cherry Central is able to see the flow of the product through the entire operation from packing to processing to warehousing," Odom told eWEEK.

DB2 Web Query allows companies such as Cherry Central to query or create reports from data in a DB2 database, IBM reports. They can view data in spreadsheets, PDF or HTML. IBM first introduced a form of DB2 in 1983.

The data platform also helps Cherry Central prepare for Food and Drug Administration audits of food plants, Eiseler said.

IBM announced its collaboration with Cherry Central on Oct. 18.

Big Blue's analytics platform can reduce the amount of time it takes to trace specific items in the supply chain, according to Eiseler.

"Any given plant used to take two days," Eiseler said. "Now it's done in less than a day."

By using the analytics technology, Cherry Central is aiming for transparency in the food process to guard against spoilage, according to Eiseler.

"One of our key challenges is to provide transparency to the data," he said. "The analytics fill that gap for us."

In addition, the platform allows Cherry Central to set up control points for data such as temperature and ingredients used, Eiseler said.

"The approach has increased our accuracy and makes sure control points are monitored as required."

The tracing process involves tracing one step forward and one step back in the food process, according to Eiseler.

"If you bring me a jar of apple sauce or apple juice that was produced here, I can tell you what orchard it was grown in, what processing plant, when it was processed and when it got delivered to the customer," he said.

All cans, caps and bottles in which the food products are packaged and shipped in need to be tracked as well, Eiseler noted.

The project with Cherry Central is part of IBM's Smarter Food initiative, in which the IT company aims to have food traced properly through a complex global supply chain.

IBM unveiled the new DB2 Analytics Accelerator Oct. 19 to integrate a data warehouse appliance from the recently acquired Netezza into IBM's zEnterprise mainframe.

In addition, Cherry Central's adoption of IBM's analytics technology is part of Big Blue's push into the small and midsize business market.

"We are collaborating with Cherry Central in an effort to bring a small to midsize business at the forefront of innovation to improve its ability to quickly trace tainted food through a more transparent food supply chain, ultimately ensuring the safety of consumers," Monshaw said.

"We're able to react with a relatively small number of individuals to do a lot of very difficult, complex and large tasks," Eiseler said.

Cherry Central has transitioned from tracing food products on reams of paper to using an analytics database. "We can present what our focus is without going through masses of paper to produce it," Eiseler explained.

"We wouldn't have thought 10 years ago that we can make records for food safety electronic, and today they're almost 100 percent electronic," Angela Paymard, chairman of N2N Global, said in an IBM video. "That's a huge advancement for the food-safety community."