Blog Kevin Doubleday09.07.22

Fluree Customer Sinisana Provides Supply Chain Traceability for Food Safety

The truth is in the data: Sinisana uses Fluree to provide food supply chain networks with better transparency.

Grocery store shopping is blissfully easy. The butcher, the produce stand, and the bakery are all in the same convenient place. You can trust what the store provides. You can enter the store in a rush, browse through the meat aisle, grab a sirloin, make sure the expiration date is okay, and drive home.

What if you were to learn that the sirloin was adulterated by mixing beef with horsemeat? Or that the company packaging the meat had slapped a fake expiration date on it? You would understandably feel disgusted. Food should be safe and honest; a label should mean what it says. 

Most countries have traceability protocols, but they are not created equal. Even the most stringent rules, such as the US’s FSMA food safety standards, don’t necessarily keep up with ever-changing consumer preferences. Was that palm oil sourced sustainably? Is the beef kosher or halal? Too often, there is no way to verify if labels are telling the truth. 

For example, the US has a known beef traceabiilty problem – just this year the NFU (National Farmers Union) raised concerns that beef labelled “Product of the USA” might actually have come from foreign countries

Establishing Trust in a Food Supply Chain

“We’ve seen what people try to get away with,” said Jonah Lau, Co-founder and CTO of supply chain-tracing startup Sinisana Technologies. “They modify things like expiration dates, or they mix in horse- or buffalo meat at the supermarket. We created Sinisana to solve those pain points.”

Sinisana is based in Malaysia, the world’s largest producer of halal food. The company recently launched Southeast Asia’s first halal beef tracking system, entering a global market of more than 2 billion Muslims. Sinisana uses Fluree to power a farm-to-fork traceability platform that ensures visibility through an entire beef supply chain. 

There is a technical reason that things like horsemeat can sneak into the beef supply. “It’s common for government food safety agencies to require documentation from one supply chain node to the next—for example, from slaughterhouse to processing plant—but not along multiple nodes,” said Lau. “Our long visibility into the supply chain is unique.”

Halal, an Islamic food law, requires adherents to only eat meats that are permitted (pork, for example, is not). It also sets down laws for what is essentially the meat supply chain, from slaughter to processing and storage. Even if animals are slaughtered in a halal-compliant way, transgressions can sneak in further down the supply chain. 

Concerned about this tendency, one of Malaysia’s most reputable halal beef suppliers approached Sinisana to establish supply chain transparency. The supplier sources cattle from Australia, ships them to Malaysia for fattening, then transports them for butchering. Cattle are butchered at various locations that include meatpacking plants and grocery stores. 

The supply chain, in other words, is not necessarily linear. It sometimes looks more like a tree than a single chain. Thanks to Sinisana and Fluree, however, consumers can trace the origins and movements of every single package of beef via a non-fungible tag with a QR code. 

Immutable Data, Cost-Efficient Pricing, and Simplicity

From the originator onwards, every organization that processes the cattle enters its own data—and cannot change previously entered data. As cattle move from producer to fattener to butcher, all information is preserved, making the data immutable. 

Even as cattle make their way to various locations for slaughter, Sinisana can still see and track data. This is because Fluree natively supports semantic graph technology, enabling full supply-chain visibility even with multiple parties involved. 

 “The great thing about graph is you have context for relationships, so you can go any direction you want,” said Lau. “It makes so much sense for us to run on Fluree. We can integrate all kinds of things that would be very difficult on a traditional blockchain.”

Complex integrations are hard on a traditional blockchain in part because of Gas fees. Transactions are based on mining a cryptocurrency, for example ETH, so users need to pay Gas fees—estimates of compute needs—before every transaction. Fluree’s usage-based model helps keep Gas costs low. Instead of charging Gas fees, Fluree calculates the number of flakes (discrete, semantically interoperable data units) that each transaction is touching. Data storage and interoperability become cost-effective while keeping all the benefits of blockchains. 

“Because Fluree enables a data mesh or fabric, you can do more things off-chain or synchronize side chains,” said Lau. “You aren’t doing as many critical things on the main chain that consume a lot of Gas. We are able to keep traceability costs low.”

Instead of passing along prohibitive Gas fee costs, Sinisana is able to charge on a per unit or per kilogram of meat. 

He describes his stack as “light and intuitive.” Sinisana uses Fluree as a database back-end, with node.js, React, React Native, and Express as other layers. “I used to work with a different data fabric that required a lot of specific skills to build,” he said. “It took time to put together and ended up with many moving parts that could fail. That created complexity for no good reason. Oftentimes we didn’t have enough time to work on it while trying to go to market with our product—it was not an easy monster to manage. Fluree’s model, by contrast, is refreshingly simple.” 

The Truth is in the Data

Sinisana’s low-cost pricing model and farm-to-fork technology continues to draw in other food producers. Suppliers of palm oil, crab, shrimp, and lobster are all working with Sinisana. Halal, however, is far from the only concern. There is a global movement towards greater visibility, particularly when it comes to ending bonded labor, a common employment practice that exploits workers in debt with unfair wages. For its part, Sinisana is in talks with palm oil producers to promote transparency in fare compensation to migrant laborers.

“Consumers are demanding sustainability, and the market is following,” said Lau. “We heartily believe supply chain tracking is the future. It’s hard to believe a company’s claims at face value. However, when one person takes the risk of applying full transparency to their supply chain, the rest are forced to catch up.” 

“The truth,” he said, “is in the data.”