The food safety challenges large food organizations face are often compounded by numerous factors, such as the number of different stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, etc.) disparate locations, changing menus and diverse operations.
Imagine a well-known quick service restaurant (QSR) chain with thousands of locations, whereby minimum age workers are on the front line of food preparation and sanitation. In these operations, the food safety culture and human behavior can potentially become compromised due to the complexity of the organization or attitudes of employees. The QSR is depending upon its managers to continuously train, monitor and record the proper food safety operations. Meanwhile, the global QSR brand depends upon a certain level of food quality and, of course, protection against a foodborne illness outbreak for its reputation and survival.
All food safety fundamentally revolves around individual human behavior. How behavior is managed, rewarded and recognized defines the culture. Commonly, human behavior is influenced and shaped by the surrounding social order. In order to develop a successful food safety culture, an operation must retain strong leadership, implement the standards of food safety processes from the top down, and invest in appropriate technology.
The introduction of FSMA has brought both challenges and opportunities to the food safety industry. The requirement to document and record all daily HACCP operations and corrective actions of a food safety plan is one of them. Conceptually speaking, “you are only as good as your records say you are.” In this context, we are faced with both the challenge of maintaining a proactive and efficient food safety culture, coupled with the burden of increased regulation.
Typically, individual managers have responsibility for their locations and see to it that employees are following the safety plans via paper checklists. The plans themselves are printed paper logs attached to clipboards. Employees need to fill these logs out and update them continuously throughout the day. At the end of the day or week, the paper is collected, filed away and placed in storage. FSMA requires two years of this type of HACCP record keeping upon audit and, well, that’s a lot of paper, not to mention a labor-intensive process.
Employee behavior can be influenced, encouraged and monitored via tools such as mobile, cloud and sensor technologies. These solutions give large organizations greater visibility into their operations and increase the opportunities to train and coach employees on performance. Managers are free to concentrate on other issues, while employees complete food safety checks and build daily compliance records. Employees are prompted to follow safety plans, and technology can inform them of corrective actions and new requirements. Cloud technologies collect information in real-time and keep years of data, doing away with clipboards, pens and paper.
The growing adoption of technology is the fundamental turning point that can help drive human behavior and food safety culture in a positive direction. Fortunately, we live in the information age with modern means that allow for increased visibility and control. Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures.
Within the contemporary IoT (internet of things) environment, human behavior can be shaped by the resources available in today’s food safety tool box. Bi-directional wireless communications and digital record keeping merges and unites the individual into the larger collective culture. We are now seeing the advent of sensor technology as a “first wave” of prevention/ detection of environmental conditions that foster foodborne illness.
A Culture of Food Safety Technology
The future state of a business culture that pays attention to food quality and safety looks decidedly different than those of the past. Each day an employee logs into a store’s mobile device using their credentials. The cloud synchs with the device, the user is identified, and the daily checklists arrive. The employee is on the clock and she has her tasks and timelines for food and safety operations for the day. She is reminded of tasks that need completion and even scored on how well she performs. Managers have real-time visibility into her performance and are offered teachable moments for training and improvement. Managers, employees and stores are all held accountable.
Imagine temperature and humidity sensors in freezers, coolers, holding bins and storage areas. These sensors act as the first line of defense as they sample the environment on a minute-by-minute basis. The sensors send SMS / e-mail alerts to the appropriate stakeholder that something could be wrong. The employee receives the alert and is assigned the task/checklist/corrective options needed to respond. The information is recorded and synchronized in the cloud for reporting purposes. Follow up on checklists can be routed to other stakeholders through the cloud.
Human behavior will never be replaced when it comes to food safety, but it sure has gotten better, faster and easier with new technologies.