Guy Yehiav

Driving Restaurant Food Safety with IoT-Enabled Digitalization

By Guy Yehiav
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Guy Yehiav

The coming FSMA 2026 regulations combined with the critical responsibility to safeguard consumers have raised the stakes for restaurant operators to enhance their digital food traceability capabilities.

Restaurant operators have a critical responsibility to safeguard the health of their customers. Mitigating foodborne illness must be top of mind today more than ever. The potential risks are too severe to overlook, especially with new FSMA 2026 regulations on the horizon.

Take Netflix’s critically acclaimed 2023 documentary Poisoned for example. It cast a light on the consequential impact that poor food safety can have on restaurant customers. More than 48 million Americans suffer from foodborne illness every year, but it’s not always just a minor stomachache or temporary irritable bowels. In some cases, we’re talking about a matter of life and death. Dr. Darin Detwiler, LP.D., a nationally recognized food regulatory leader featured in the Netflix documentary, learned this reality firsthand after the tragic passing of his 16-month-old son from an E. coli infection caused by contaminated ground beef at a Jack in the Box fast food restaurant in 1993. And his family is not alone — there are 3,000 U.S. deaths from foodborne disease annually, with 1 in 3 afflicting children.

There’s also a business continuity component to consider. While no monetary value can be placed on human life, restaurants must understand the financial and brand reputational risks associated with poor food safety. Jack in the Box suffered approximately $160 million in legal penalties and lost sales as a result of the E. coli outbreak — and that was in the early 1990s. That is equivalent to about $350 million today. For a more recent example, Chipotle’s 2016 E. coli outbreak caused 43 restaurants to close, eroded over 45% of the company’s stock value, and resulted in a $6 billion loss in market cap. It underscored the criticality for restaurants to execute on food safety and the financial consequences of failing to do so.

In 2024, safeguarding restaurant customers from foodborne illness will require a shift away from legacy approaches in favor of IoT-enabled digitalized food safety strategies. The integrated use of IoT Sensing-as-a-Service frameworks throughout restaurant facilities provides the operational efficiency, real-time visibility, and data-driven decision making essential to preserve customer health. These frameworks combine IoT sensing and monitoring functions with the power of AI-driven prescriptive analytics to automate fundamental food safety processes such as condition monitoring, task management, compliance reporting, and asset protection. These tools enable the average person to comply with regulation and keep the client safe.

Compounded at scale, they enable restaurant operators to foster a culture of food safety accountability at every level of the enterprise and align with the oncoming realities of FSMA 2026.

FSMA 2026: A New Era on the Horizon

The FSMA 2026 regulations have raised the stakes for restaurant operators to enhance their digital food traceability capabilities. The new rulings will require them to provide verifiable data records of Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) across key hand-off-points of the food chain where products are at risk of spoilage. For example, that could be seafood containers transferred from a distribution truck to a back-house freezer or leafy greens inside a salad bar right before the point of consumption.

Restaurant operators must be able to prove that FSMA 2026 products remained in optimal conditions during critical control points. They will also be required to present an electronic traceability plan that clearly describes their procedure for maintaining records for the foods they handle. In the case of a foodborne illness outbreak at the restaurant, the operator must be able to present traceability records to the FDA within 24 hours if requested.

Maintaining compliance at this granular level requires agile food chain technology. Operators who haven’t invested in digitalization yet should be prioritizing it now ahead of FSMA 2026. It’s impossible for an enterprise to manually record accurate FSMA data across 40 or 50 locations without automation. Manual data logs are often siloed, incomplete, and hindered by human error. Adopting IoT Sensing-as-a-Service frameworks will be critical to preparing for the uncertainty ahead.

Real Time Condition Monitoring

IoT Sensing-as-a-Service frameworks empower operators to collect, analyze, and act on inventory data for a stronger food safety posture. Placed inside a restaurant’s food storage assets, IoT sensing and monitoring devices allow employees to remotely monitor their environmental settings in real time to confirm HACCP compliance standards are maintained. The devices also monitor the performance of those storage assets, automating the detection and prediction of maintenance issues that could lead to an illness-causing event. 

The raw data collected from each individual IoT device flows through a prescriptive analytics platform with continuous telemetry feedback loops that identify potential risks and prescribe mitigation actions. Based on the data-driven insights, restaurants can take the proper steps to ensure their products remain safe to consume.

Leveraging Digital Checklists

Digital checklists are another key component of the IoT Sensing-as-a-Service framework, helping to simplify the complexities of task management within a hectic back-of-house restaurant environment. Serving as an operational execution platform, these checklists enable operators to gain unprecedented visibility into employee efficiency and food safety initiatives. Managing workflows for multiple locations is exceedingly easier, allowing operators to monitor enterprise-wide food safety as quality performance alongside location-specific metrics. And with access to the right prescriptive tasks at the right times, employees can proactively enhance the safety of high-risk menu items such as poultry, leafy greens, and eggs that require stringent temperature-sensitive storage conditions.

In the past, restaurants would respond to incidents after the fact while leveraging unreliable paper-based records to explain what had gone wrong. While this level of manual task management is near impossible to analyze at scale, digital checklists help realize the benefits of a proactive food safety strategy, generating visibility into compliance and operational procedures, regardless of scale, while unlocking insights that prevent foodborne incidents from arising in the first place.

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