Transparency-One logoNeo Technology’s Emil Eifrem finds a grim warning and some hope in news of the world’s biggest bust of adulterated foodstuffs

Lawmakers claim they’ve had to remove 10,000 tonnes of fake food and an astonishing million litres of unhealthy drink out of our global supply chain.

It’s a serious issue. We’re talking about food poisoned with chemicals like copper sulphate solution, like consumers who were confronted with 85 tonnes of tampered-with olives. Or with formalin, and even fertilizer. (Formalin, by the way, is another term for a preservative you may have heard of: formaldehyde – the chemical used for dead tissue samples.)

So, this is about dangerous criminality that could endanger life. It’s about olives that you’d want to eat – but which are drenched in vile chemicals to deceive you about how edible they are.

The frightening reality is that international law enforcement agencies Interpol and its European equivalent are experiencing serious problems trying to keep up with this repellent business.

To quote the latter, it’s now a “a multi-billion criminal industry which can pose serious potential health risks to unsuspecting customers”, and we should all welcome the smart policing that just closed the biggest ever such seizure across 57 countries.

Visibility into the supply chain

We know how important it is to get visibility into the food supply chain at scale, as we have worked with pioneers in this space like Transparency-One, a firm that’s architected a special tool that allows manufacturers and brand owners to learn about, monitor, analyse and search their supply chain, as well as share significant data about production sites and products.

The value of this to major food and drink brands is that in times of local crisis, like conflict in an important area for source materials, or if there’s a public warning (recall the horse burgers) that’s raised concerns, the software can help shine a very bright light on what’s come from where – and if it’s really what it should be.

The only data-modelling engine that could work at the scale Transparency-One needed is a graph database. That’s because both the volume and structure of information that needs to be worked with would have a major impact on performance if constructed in a traditional RDBMS.

Step forward Neo4j, the market-leading graph database. Using Neo4j, the Transparency-One team were able to engineer a sophisticated, global-reach, supply chain tracker that is offering a highly-performant aid to Transparency-One’s clients.

Don’t just take our word for it – Transparency-One’s CEO, Chris Morrison, has gone on record to state how his technology team had tested Neo4j with dummy data for several thousand products and there were no performance issues.

Even better: “As for the search response time, we didn’t have to worry about taking special measures, since we got back results within seconds that we would not have been able to calculate without this solution.”

Imagine how much poison is out there year on year

That’s very reassuring – and we hope other brands are taking as responsible a view of the whole compromised food supply chain as Transparency-One’s clients are.

Ultimately, we need them to – as we don’t even want to think about the number of poisons that could be being introduced into the food we consume tomorrow. After all, the 10,000 tonnes/1m litres was retrieved in just one three month period – November 2015-January 2016.

Let’s hope this billion dollar, dangerous scam is closed down for good. Until it is, we can rely on graphs in the hands of smart intermediaries like Transparency-One to help keep us safe.

The author is CEO of Neo Technology, the firm behind the world’s favourite graph development toolkit, Neo4j.