Tag Archives: digital checklists

Kari Hensien, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

2023 Predictions: Technology’s Growing Role in Food Safety

By Kari Hensien
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Kari Hensien, RizePoint

Amid continuing threats to our food supply, food businesses should understand how tech tools can help improve all facets of their operations—from increasing sustainability to ensuring their suppliers are committed to safety and quality. In the coming year, more operators will rely on technology to save money, reduce waste, improve training, boost accuracy, and make more informed business decisions.

The good news is that tech solutions have become more affordable and accessible for food businesses of all sizes. Therefore, digital solutions will become more widely used in the coming year, as food businesses ditch their manual systems and/or disjointed tech stacks that don’t provide holistic views of their enterprise in favor of modern, integrated, intuitive tools.

Following are some of the key challenges that necessitate a shift to new technologies.

The Need for Sustainable Food Production

Climate change is putting food production at risk. Extreme weather is destroying traditionally grown crops and, moving forward, there will be a renewed effort around sustainable food production, including efforts such as vertical farming, hydroponics, and aquaponics.

The food industry must leverage technology to address multiple issues, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to changing the way we grow food. Faster innovation is essential to make farming more sustainable, create new infrastructure, reduce our dependence on foreign food supplies, increase the transparency all along the supply chain, and reduce risk from farm to table.

Quality and Accuracy are King

Integrated software can boost accuracy, which will elevate a variety of critical metrics, including revenue, safety, quality and customer loyalty. Tech tools help you plan better, track inventory, monitor customer preference, and anticipate upcoming needs by tracking key metrics across your enterprise. Remember, if you don’t measure accuracy, you can’t improve it. Additionally, if there are accuracy problems, these tools can help you identify if you have one problematic employee or if there are more widespread problems at a specific location (or locations). Based on this data, you can take corrective actions, including increasing training and adjusting processes.

Training Will Change

Historically, food businesses trained employees by explaining how things should be done, then expected staff to do exactly what they learned. But what if you thought about training differently? What if you used tech tools to provide critical information in bite-sized chunks to boost employees’ understanding? What if you sent information right to their phones so they always have resources at their fingertips? Then, you could use automated reminders to ensure they don’t forget a crucial safety check during a busy shift.

One important change that’s expected to trend in the coming year is building collaborative cultures versus punitive ones. It’s important that employees feel encouraged to ask questions, seek feedback, and be empowered to take ownership of safety and quality efforts. Train, practice, demonstrate, and reinforce to boost employee confidence and retention, using tech tools to reinforce these lessons.

The Supply Chain Will Become More Transparent

It’s critical to implement safety and quality protocols for your business, but that alone is not enough. Every food business must also inspect safety, quality, and traceability all along their supply chain, as well. Thanks to more affordable, accessible tech tools, this is now possible for brands of all sizes and budgets, and you can get started without a big investment. Focus on what the regulations require and use digital solutions to seamlessly manage your vendors’ safety and QA certifications. Today’s solutions allow you to organize and track this important information in a centralized location for quick, easy access.

Food Businesses Will Audit Differently

Remote brand protection grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, as companies needed alternative ways to protect their locations/facilities when travel restrictions prohibited them from physically reaching them for audits or inspections. Now that the pandemic is over, expect food businesses to continue auditing differently.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to reach all your locations regularly, or it’s cost prohibitive to send in-person auditors to numerous locations multiple times per year. Tech solutions can save quality teams as much as 70% of their current program budgets, which is a huge win at a time when every dollar counts.

Increasingly, food businesses will ditch the paper checklists for more efficient, accurate, transparent, and frequent auditing, including self-assessments. Digital solutions will help ensure that every safety and quality check is done regularly (and properly). The days of relying solely on annual third-party inspections are over. Now, food businesses are embracing a combination of third-party and remote inspections plus frequent self-inspections to maximize safety and minimize risks.

It can feel overwhelming to try and manage all aspects of your organization’s safety and quality programs while also navigating the ongoing problems that are putting our food production at risk. Food businesses will have to work hard to keep the lights on and deliver products (and promises) to customers. Tech solutions will make all aspects of your business operations easier, faster, and more accurate, while also boosting safety and quality.

Touchless payment system
FST Soapbox

Five Ways Restaurants Can Use Technology to Improve Food Safety

By Emily Newton
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Touchless payment system

Food safety concerns are coming under increasing scrutiny among both regulators and the general public. To protect consumers as well as their business’ reputations, restaurants must do all they can to address potential risks. Fortunately, there are several new technologies that can help retail food establishments improve and monitor their food safety protocols. Following are five of the most effective and easiest to implement advances.

1. Monitoring Ingredient Quality

One of the key technology-based advances in food safety are Internet of Things (IoT)-based sensors that can track temperature changes in refrigerators, warm storage or other areas in real time to ensure food stays out of danger zones. If temperatures fluctuate too much, these sensors can warn employees so they can respond swiftly to prevent spoilage and microbial growth.

The same technology can help ensure ingredient quality in transit, too. IoT solutions can track temperature and spoilage-indicating nanoparticles in shipping, giving drivers and other stakeholders real-time updates to inform any necessary changes, such as delivering to a closer store before goods spoil.

2. Tracking Safety Procedure Compliance

Restaurants can also use technology to ensure employees meet food safety regulations. Many issues arise from unsanitary work practices, and conventional compliance-monitoring measures are inefficient and leave room for error. Digital technologies offer a solution.

Digital checklists make it easier to record compliance with daily food safety protocols. Their ease of use encourages participation, and employees who use these lists are less likely to overlook parts of the routine. Moving to digital instead of paper records also improves traceability, reduces the danger of missing documents and documents who was in charge if something wasn’t completed.

Restaurants with particularly critical safety concerns can go a step further by placing hand-scanning devices near sinks and workstations. These devices can detect potential pathogens on employees’ hands, indicating if they need to wash more thoroughly. Similar systems can also monitor body heat to suggest if an employee is ill.

3. Verifying Cleanliness

Other technologies that can help verify the efficacy of a restaurant’s food safety protocols include adenosine triphosphate (ATP) tests. These testing devices detect ATP, the energy unit found in all living cells, to reveal microbial contamination. Restaurants that regularly use these tests on surfaces throughout the kitchen and dining room can discover problem areas where cleaning practices are insufficient, or confirm that their current cleaning and sanitizing methods are working.

4. Minimizing Touchpoints

Cross-contamination is one of the most common risks in restaurants, and the presence of many high-touch surfaces exacerbates these concerns. Using touch-free alternatives to high-touch devices helps minimize the risk of cross-contamination.

Touch-free faucets and paper towel dispensers are perhaps the most recognizable examples of these technologies. However, restaurants don’t have to stop there. Automatic soap dispensers, touchless payment systems, hands-free condiment dispensers and automatic lights are available today and help reduce the number of high-touch surfaces.

Touch-free technology doesn’t negate the need for regular hand-washing and glove-changing, but it mitigates risks if employees fail to comply with standards. These systems are also typically more efficient than manual alternatives, so they can boost productivity.

5. Improving Traceability

Surveys suggest that just 6% of all firms have full visibility into their supply chains, making it difficult for restaurants to know exactly where things come from and how they get there. This makes tracing foodborne illnesses challenging, but new technologies can help.

IoT tracking and blockchain platforms provide more visibility, including real-time insights into shipment locations and quality. These digital records make it easier to go back after a safety incident to see where the problem originated. Restaurants can then accurately determine what to change to prevent similar issues in the future.

Restaurants that want to succeed must embrace food safety. Doing that effectively means capitalizing on new technologies to simplify processes, improve visibility and minimize risks.

Derek Stangle, Squadle
FST Soapbox

A Check on Food Service Safety

By Derek Stangle
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Derek Stangle, Squadle

Food safety is a primary concern worldwide. On a national scale, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earmarked $44.8M for food safety in the President’s FY2022 Budget Request, with more than half of that funding going to the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative—a blueprint for the use of new and emerging technologies and approaches.

The New Era of Smarter Food Safety is centered around four core elements:

  • Tech-enabled Traceability
  • Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
  • New Business Models and Retail Modernization
  • Food Safety Culture

These foundational pillars cover a range of technologies, analytics, business models and values. Working together, these elements help create a safer and more traceable food system.

The focus on food safety culture is particularly interesting. The FDA calls upon restaurants and food service providers to define food safety culture goals, and to develop and launch internal training on the principles of food safety, starting with education on the tools available for food safety with a particular focus on tools that assess and measure progress.

Creating that safety culture is critical to any brand in food service. Employees, equipped with the proper tools and procedures, are on the front lines of food safety: from ensuring proper food storage and refrigeration, to keeping food prep areas and utensils clearly marked, clean and sanitary, and cooking food to safe temperatures.

According to the Safe Food Alliance, food safety culture refers to the specific culture of a facility: the attitudes, beliefs, practices and values that determine what is happening when no one is watching. A strong culture of food safety helps a facility both prevent and catch deviations in their processes that can impact the safety, quality and legality of their products.

How to Maintain Cleanliness and Service Standards

Yet a food safety culture alone is not enough. Equip your employees for success by providing the proper tools and training. For new employees, training should include: education of the restaurant’s cleanliness and service standards, where these standards are derived from (i.e. FDA Food Code), the purpose of restaurant inspections and the consequences of receiving a food code violation.

Starting with the basics, employees should carefully inspect the kitchen, eating and dining areas, as well as restrooms, to make sure the restaurant meets legal health requirements and store-implemented standards. Implementation of the FDA food code ensures cleanliness and food safety practices, including the most current science, technology and legal precedents. Adhering to these guidelines enhances the customer and employee experience by reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses, and the likelihood of physical injury.

Maintaining cleanliness and service standards can be difficult, and the tasks required for food safety can be cumbersome for employees. Manual checklists can help ensure tasks are completed. Newer technologies, such as digital checklists, can further streamline food safety tasks, with compliance and visibility into whether procedures are being diligently followed and completed.

One major challenge of using manual/paper checklists is the lack of transparency in completion rates and quality of tasks. This is especially true for operators of multiple locations. Digital checklists can require employees to provide managers with evidence of task completion—signing a form or capturing a task completion photo.

A manager also can assess the state of restaurant cleanliness and predict threats to food safety and customer satisfaction remotely. For example, if a manager identifies that the tables in the customer seating area are overdue to be wiped down, they can alert employees to this issue.

Having a digital record of completion provides managers confidence that their procedures are being followed, especially when it comes time for restaurant inspection. These insights also allow managers to refine employee education. With effective implementation, these good habits will become routine.

Without an accurate view of operations, food safety and restaurant cleanliness standards cannot be accurately assessed. Eventually, these inconsistencies may cause unforeseen customer service conflicts and food code violations.

Establishing a food safety culture, backed by routine and technology tools, will help your team develop the habits needed to achieve and maintain the high level of cleanliness and service standards required to prevent foodborne illness and increase customer satisfaction.