Tag Archives: restaurants

Michael Sperber, UL Everclean

Amid Labor Shortage, Restaurants and Grocery Stores Challenged to Focus on Sanitation and Employee Training

By Maria Fontanazza
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Michael Sperber, UL Everclean

The foodservice and retail industry has struggled to keep up with the curveballs thrown at it during this pandemic. “Whether reopening dining rooms after extended closures or finding their footing in a world of new omnichannel ordering, quick service restaurant and fast casual managers are grappling with evolving rules and regulations, changing diner preferences, while also welcoming an entirely new workforce,” says Michael Sperber, a global business manager for UL Everclean, a third-party retail food safety and sanitation audit program that helps retail foodservice businesses improve their food safety practices. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Sperber discussed the evolving challenges in the foodservice and retail space over the past 15 months.

Food Safety Tech: On the issue of sanitation and cleanliness, what hurdles do restaurants and grocery stores have in the face of the pandemic and the subsequent labor shortage?

Michael Sperber: Trust in the safety and cleanliness of restaurants and grocery stores is one of the bigger concerns that must be addressed as consumers continue to navigate the pandemic. Consumers now have a higher expectation for their own health and well being, and expect establishments they visit to meet their needs and [doing so] while embracing heightened health and safety protocols.

FST: What steps should they be taking to identify and reduce potential health and safety risks?

Michael Sperber, UL Everclean
Michael Sperber, global business manager for UL Everclean

Sperber: Amidst new challenges, guidelines and expectations, restaurants continue to have the critical responsibility of offering sanitary eating spaces and food preparation practices that help prevent diners from getting foodborne illnesses. There are several ways that restaurants can do this including:

  1. Leveraging technology to support food safety best practices.
    • Hand washing monitors help guide employees in proper handwashing techniques.
    • Internet of Things (IoT) temperature devices can monitor hot and cold food holding and service areas, instantly alerting managers when temperatures fall outside an acceptable range.
    • Touchless technologies like digital displays in the back of the house reduce transmission risk from employees handling food.
  2. Auditing every location of one branded store can account for differences in employees and managers. Left unverified, the rigor of food safety practices may simply rest on the personal conviction of a single location manager, rendering it completely inconsistent across locations. It is critical that management audit each individual store for compliance with food safety best practices.
    iii. Having an emergency plan, and then training for and rehearsing the plan, can help with proper mitigation of the threats of potential contamination.

FST: Discuss the role of employee training in this process, and how organizations should move forward.

Sperber: Training employees in food safety and customer interaction is a vital step in protecting employees and guests from foodborne illnesses. Employees who recently started at a restaurant when it reopened might not be aware of the dangers of foodborne illnesses or basic food safety protocols.

As restaurants reopen, when more and more guests have safety at the top of their mind, they should completely reboot their food safety programs, beginning with basics of safe food handling and foodborne illness. Repetition is a good way to reinforce the importance of food safety, and it may be beneficial to provide multiple training videos, pose questions on food safety during the interview and training process and include food safety on periodic employee reviews. Infractions among employees should result in retraining. This level of repetition communicates the importance of the issue.

A focus on employee training will help lead to a culture of food safety where everyone from the corporate CEO to the manager and janitorial staff feels accountable and can understand the consequences of failure to follow proper protocols.

Fast-Growing Salmonella Outbreak Spans 29 States, Origin Still Unknown

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The CDC has been unable to determine the origin of a “fast-growing” Salmonella Oranienburg outbreak that has sickened nearly 280 people across 29 states. As of the agency’s latest update on September 24, state and local officials have been collecting food items from restaurants where sick people ate, however since several items were in takeout containers that were contaminated with the strain of Salmonella, the CDC has not been able to identify the source of the outbreak. Sampled items include takeout condiments that contain cilantro and lime.

The first illness was reported on August 3. The CDC also notes that recent illnesses may not yet be reported because it can take three to four weeks to determine whether a sick person is part of an outbreak. Thus far no deaths have been reported.

Derek Stangle, Squadle
Retail Food Safety Forum

How the Pandemic Raised the Stakes for Food Safety

By Derek Stangle
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Derek Stangle, Squadle

Food safety concerns are constant across the food industry. From grocery stores to restaurants to meatpacking plants, the industry has doubled down on creating greater transparency into how food is stored, handled, cooked and delivered to the end customer. At the same time, new technology is helping food executives execute everything from contactless transactions to track, record, and promote their safety policies as never before.

Both independent restaurants and large chains see food safety as an issue that grew in importance during the pandemic. Diners have come to rely on restaurant policies for staff hygiene, such as washing hands, wearing gloves, and tracking personnel temperatures at the beginning of every shift. Their patrons expect that each restaurant will demonstrate how they are adhering to safety protocols. Restaurants are publishing their policies via signage, flyers added to take-out orders, social media posts, updated website language, or even safety protocols published to Yelp.

What’s more, their customers can easily access guidelines published by the CDC such as “Avoid Food Poisoning: Tips for Eating at Restaurants”, which explain how to check a restaurant’s safety score at the local health department website or find information, such as certificates that show kitchen managers have completed food safety training and posted it in the physical restaurant.

For restaurants, a transparent safety policy can become a competitive advantage, used to win new customers and attract the very best job candidates.

Grocery stores face similar challenges. From the checkout line to deli employees and the inventory clerks stocking the shelves, grocery employees are essential workers who also experience an unusually high level of public contact. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, since the pandemic began, there have been more than 100,000 frontline and grocery union workers infected or exposed to COVID-19.

The UFCW has called for better safety precautions for grocery workers, including free PPE, paid sick leave, and vaccination prioritization that reflects their role as essential workers. As the national vaccination program picks up steam, more states are recognizing the need to vaccinate these essential workers, and they’ve been moved up in the prioritization line.

Until vaccines become more prevalent, however, grocery stores have adopted measures, much like those in restaurants, that are designed to protect both workers and shoppers. Mask mandates, one-way aisles, six-foot distancing, and Plexiglas shields at checkout are now commonplace.

Expanding Takeout and Delivery

Both restaurants and grocery stores have seen a huge shift to delivery ordering or curbside takeout over the course of the pandemic. Customers expect their favorite brands to give them the option of a frictionless, contactless experience where they have minimal contact with employees.

In order to offer a contactless takeout experience, both grocery stores and restaurants have invested heavily in technology. Curbside pickup and home delivery require an up-to-date website synched to inventory and menus. In addition, mobile apps enable guests to order remotely regardless of their location. The ability to pay via the app or a mobile wallet is the next step in a seamless contactless experience. Guests can pick up groceries or restaurant orders curbside, or pay a little more to have them delivered to their doorsteps.

The big advantage for shoppers is that they never come into contact with store employees, thus reducing the possibility of virus transmission. However, shoppers are finding that they also like the speed and convenience of the contactless experience. For this reason, many restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Chipotle, are expanding their drive-through capabilities.

Big brands like Amazon are doing the same with grocery. The Amazon Go concept store provides a “Just Walk Out Shopping” experience. There are no lines and no checkout. Customers download an Amazon Go app, and their items are automatically scanned and billed to their account. Other innovators include Wegman’s, which has partnered with Instacart to facilitate free delivery for its online shoppers, and brands like Safeway and Albertson’s, which also have curbside pickup facilitated via their mobile apps.

Back-of-House Technology

Back-of-house technology completes the food safety paradigm for restaurants and grocery stores. New systems that combine wireless networks with temperature monitors and data analysis make it simple and compulsory to track food temperatures throughout a facility. Remote sensors automatically record temperatures in coolers, the kitchen, and as orders move on to the customer.

Workflow automation in the back-of-house has become equally indispensable as food compliance has become increasingly more complex. Whether it’s a multi-unit restaurant or grocery brand, operators crave the data and visibility that only a digital solution can provide. Automation reduces the amount of time spent on tasks otherwise done manually, cuts down on the chance of errors, increases customer satisfaction and improves overall efficiency.

Technology helps the foodservice industry to stay on track, ensure compliance and encourages employees to stick with these practices. With a digital solution that keeps an electronic record of all the protocols that need to be completed, restaurants and groceries can record each inspection, such as taking photos of clean equipment and walk-in coolers at proper temperatures, as well as reminding them of their most important tasks and cleaning schedules.

Greg Staley, SynergySuite
Retail Food Safety Forum

Pathway to Progress: How to Invest in Food Safety Technology when Future Is Uncertain

By Greg Staley
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Greg Staley, SynergySuite

The last 18 months have been tremendously difficult for the restaurant industry. Six years of growth were undone by a global pandemic, and industry sales were $240 billion dollars lower than pre-COVID-19 projections, according to the National Restaurant Association.

While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of trends like online ordering, off-premise dining and delivery, it also brought others to a halt. Revenue loss from the pandemic meant many restaurants had to put other technology upgrades on hold.

Now, despite diners eagerly returning to dine in, other costs have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Supply chain and labor disruptions, rent, and other operational costs are still making margins razor thin. This likely means the technology teams at many brands will be looking to do more with less for several years as the industry normalizes again. And oftentimes that means food safety will take a back seat.

Traditional ways of trimming budgets are no longer feasible, so operators looking to restore profitability will need to find new ways to boost operational efficiencies. These challenges do not mean you can’t make strategic investments, but they do mean you will have to be thoughtful about how and where you put those tech budgets.

Operators are facing a number of challenges while trying to regain their footing as COVID restrictions wind down. However, there are ways you can still invest in food safety technology, even while profits are recovering. Let’s look at what roadblocks are potentially introducing risk into your food safety program and how you can still create an effective food safety culture to protect employees and guests.

The Challenges

The following are just a few of the issues introducing risk into your food safety processes.

Challenge 1: Staffing shortages have employees spread thin.
Many people left the restaurant industry during the pandemic, exacerbating an already tight labor market. This has led to closing for some days or specific times, slower service, drive thru or take out only, and routine tasks falling behind.

While safe food handling should be routine, time crunches put pressure on even the best staff. Your employees may be fudging line checks, not throwing out food that reached unsafe temperatures, or forgetting specific tasks at the busiest times.

Challenge 2: Supply chain and transportation disruptions threaten safe food supplies.
Global supply chains are still fluctuating, and transportation has been disrupted as well. This means many restaurants are not getting the entire inventory they need when they need it. Trucks may take longer to transport food and high temperatures across North America could mean food is going out of temp when it normally wouldn’t. This is particularly troubling if employees aren’t checking deliveries, as you won’t know if food has been delivered outside safe temperatures.

Challenge 3: Dropping revenue leads to more manual processes and temp checks.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual report, 86% of restaurants say profitability is lower than it was prior to the pandemic. This is not an unexpected statistic in a year that saw unprecedented challenges to the industry, but it has had a number of domino effects.
One of those effects is restaurants that may previously have been using operational software to monitor and report on safe food practices returned to spreadsheets or clipboards to save on tech costs. Or those that had smart devices such as Bluetooth temperature probes or fridge and freezer monitors replaced them with non-smart devices if they broke or became out of date.

Challenge 4: Employee turnover threatens food safety culture and institutional knowledge.
It’s no secret that a food handler’s permit is not the end-all-be-all of food safety in a restaurant. The longer employees work in foodservice, the more experience they have with safe food handling practices, and they are able to pass this down to new employees to reinforce best practices.

However, the loss of many longtime foodservice employees leaving the industry has left huge gaps in institutional knowledge that affect everything from how smoothly a restaurant runs to how well employees follow safe food handling.

The Solutions

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every restaurant. However, here are a few things operators can focus on to help bolster food safety practices and bring in modern food safety technology even while profitability is lower than it was prior to the pandemic.

Solution 1: Look for improvements in existing processes or technology.
You don’t have to immediately look to new technology. There is a lot to be gained from optimizing what you already have that’s working well. This can mean looking for new ways to take advantage of technology you already have in place or making small adjustments to processes that work well but could be tweaked to be more efficient.

For example, if you are using some sort of digital checklist tool, think about ways you can integrate a previously manual food safety process into it. You may not think it’s a big change, but even skipping the step of having to transcribe data from checklists or spreadsheets means you will get faster, more accurate reporting. Or you can use existing temperature probes and add the step of checking deliveries as they arrive to ensure they are within a safe temperature range.

Then talk to the customer success manager at any company you already use. There may be features you are paying for and don’t even realize you aren’t using. One example is that many inventory systems also carry food safety capabilities as a side offering, and their customers aren’t using it because they originally signed up for inventory help.

You can begin with seemingly small changes that will ultimately add up to a big reduction in risk as you snowball strategies and build safer processes.

Solution 2: Look for places where you can consolidate technology.
In today’s restaurant technology ecosystem, you can find virtually anything you want. If you’ve been building a piecemeal tech stack, it’s time to take another look at what’s out there. Many restaurants are paying for separate software for things like operations checklists, inventory, food safety, scheduling and training.

If you’re using separate systems because you feel like that’s giving you the best technology, then carry on. But if it’s just because that’s how you added them, and you never took a look at where you could consolidate multiple systems into one platform, then get acquainted with your options. Many back-of-house platforms can help you cover multiple areas of your operations more efficiently and you’ll be able to bundle pricing rather than paying for disparate systems.

Solution 3: Focus on systems that pay for themselves.
The idea that software is only a cost center has been around for a long time. Some systems may not tie back directly to revenue, but there are more places than you realize that cover their own subscription costs with the money saved.

First, look for any areas you can consolidate technology and piggyback food safety tools into that. If you are gaining a new restaurant management system, odds are you will find food safety technology as part of that package, and you can justify the overall upgrade on food and labor savings.

Second, food safety is so reliant on employee buy-in and consistency that technology that improves retention and training will also have a positive effect on your food safety risk reduction. Labor management and scheduling systems will bring down one of the two major costs of running a restaurant, with a secondary benefit of making food safety practices stronger.

The longer you retain employees, the better they are at teaching correct practices to others as well as adhering to brand food safety practices. Plus, training systems that come with labor tools allow you to provide micro learning moments that reinforce proper practices for even the most experienced employees.

Life during the pandemic has taken a toll on all areas of restaurant operations, including food safety. Now that guests are dining out more, you don’t want to take a chance that a foodborne illness will destroy business just as it is being rebuilt. Times are tight to pay for new technology, but there are things operators can do to make food safety programs stronger without breaking the bank.

James Gunn-Wilkerson, CMX
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Future Is Now: AI Takes Journey from Supply Chain to Today’s Restaurant Kitchens

By James Gunn-Wilkerson
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James Gunn-Wilkerson, CMX

Futurist Ross Dawson has said that AI and automation will shape the future of work, and it also promises to transform our lives beyond the office. According to the World Economic Forum, when AI, which provides the ability to “enable devices to learn, reason and process information like humans,” is combined with Internet of Things (IoT) devices and systems, it creates AIoT. This super duo has the potential to power smart homes, smart cities, smart industries and even our smartwatches and fitness trackers, a market estimated by Gartner to be worth $87 billion by 2023. More importantly, this “interconnectedness” will change the way we interact with our devices as well as the way we will live and work in the future.

In the restaurant industry, we’re already seeing glimpses of this interconnectedness take shape, and in the past year, we’ve experienced major technological advancements that have transformed every facet of the way food establishments work. Reflecting on those advancements, I want to take a moment to share three areas of AI impact that are bubbling up in the restaurant sector in 2021.

1: AI-powered Intelligent Kitchens

From ghost kitchens to traditional kitchens, the “back of the house” continues to be a prime target for AI and automation. While great progress has been made, in many ways it seems like we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to how far AI can take today’s restaurants. But every now and then, we hear examples of AI powering the future of our industry. For example, Nala Robotics, Inc. will be opening what it calls “the world’s first state-of-the-art intelligent restaurant” in Naperville, Illinois this year. The company says the AI-based robotic kitchen “can create dishes from any cuisine around the world, using authentic recipes from celebrated chefs”. A press release from Nala Robotics states that its flagship restaurant is taking “the first step in the food service industry with AI-powered service, addressing many of the issues affecting restaurant owners during COVID-19,” and it will “provide consumers an endless variety of cuisine without potential contamination from human contact.” This is the new frontier in intelligent kitchens, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with the pandemic forcing restaurants to reimagine the way they do business.

2: AI-Driven Labor Shifts.

You can’t talk about AI in the restaurant industry without also having a conversation about the implications for the modern workforce. With AI in restaurant kitchens and beyond, the impact on the labor force is undeniable. By 2024, Gartner predicts “that these technologies will replace almost 69% of the manager’s workload.” But that’s not entirely a bad thing. Instead of manually filling out forms and updating records, managers can turn to AI to automate these and other tedious tasks. “By using AI…they can spend less time managing transactions and can invest more time on learning, performance management and goal setting,” Gartner adds.Managers can also use the extra time to focus more effort on the customer and employee experience. And indeed they should: In a recent Deloitte report, 60% of guests surveyed indicated that a positive experience would influence them to dine at a restaurant more frequently.

Looking at the impact of AI on labor at all levels, from the CEO to the entry-level wage earner, the shift, at its best, will be a transition to more meaningful—and less mundane—work. The evolution of humanity has taken us to the point we’re now at now, with food production and delivery processes becoming increasingly automated. This has been an evolution generations in the making. In an ideal world, everyone at every level of the organization should benefit from this new wave of technology. For example, automation can and should be used to open the door to new training and new opportunities for low-wage earners to learn new skills that elevate career paths, increase income and improve quality of life.

3: AI and Global Supply Chain Transformation

From the farm all the way to the table, AI is now poised to transform the global supply chain. From my perspective, the biggest impact will be around driving sustainability efforts. Restaurant and grocery brands are already beginning to leverage AI to forecast their food supply needs based on customer demand, leading to less over-ordering and less food waste to support sustainability initiatives. One company in this space, FourKites, is creating what it calls “the digital supply chain of the future.” Using real-time visibility and machine learning, FourKites powers and optimizes global supply chains, making them “automated, interconnected and collaborative—spanning transportation, warehouses, stores, trucks and more.”

In addition to predictive planning, more and more brands will start to use AI to create incident risk management models to identify trends and risks in the supply chain to determine whether bad or recalled products are originating from a specific supplier, distributor, or due to an environmental variable.With all of these changes, the need for comprehensive data standards will multiply as suppliers and distributors around the world work together to bring us produce and packaged food from all corners of the globe. Data standards will be critical to traceability and the exchange of critical tracking events and key data elements, and advances in data standards will power the meta-data needed to provide better insight for food quality and regulatory compliance, crisis management, and recalls—at scale.

Research firm Forrester states that, in the end, the greatest impact resulting from an investment in robotics and other technologies that automate operational tasks is improved customer experience (CX). “Most companies believe that investment in AI, automation, and robotics for engagement will decrease operational costs. While this is true, our research shows that the revenue upside from delivering better CX could deliver a greater impact on the bottom line over time,” Forrester states.

As a business engaged in digitizing and transforming supply chain operations, our team couldn’t agree with Forrester more. But we believe it will take striking the right balance between technology and the human touch to not only drive stronger CX, but to also create a world in which AI is implemented for the greater good—a world in which people, processes, business and technology all win.

Hussain Suleman, Sigfox
Retail Food Safety Forum

How to Use the IoT to Keep Your Restaurant Clean and Safe

By Hussain Suleman
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Hussain Suleman, Sigfox

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges to all industries, and many restaurants have been forced to close their doors permanently. Restaurant owners have struggled due to COVID-19 restrictions that have drastically cut the number of customers they can serve—whether as a result of an indoor dining ban or capacity limits. Those that have been allowed to re-open are being stretched to meet new guidelines to keep guests safe and comfortable while dining. Not only do restaurant owners need to make sure their restaurants are COVID-safe, but they also need to ensure they are providing the quality service and meals their customers have come to know and love. The Internet of Things (IoT) can not only ease the burden of implementing new protocols while also ensuring a clean and safe environment for both employees and patrons, but also help restaurants enhance efficiency.

The following are some points on how the IoT can help restaurants not only survive, but thrive amid the pandemic.

Monitoring Cleaning

Easy-to-deploy IoT-enabled devices provide several benefits to QSRs, including the monitoring of employee hand washing stations, dishwashing water temperatures, sanitizer solution concentrations and customer bathroom usage frequency to ensure constant compliance with cleanliness standards.

By placing sensors on tables and work lines, restaurant owners can collect valuable data and insights in real time. For example, the sensors can share information about how often tables are being cleaned. This information will help owners trust that tables are being cleaned thoroughly in between each use.

Sensors can also be placed on washbasins to monitor employee hand washing. Sensors on the sinks will not only confirm that employees’ hands have been washed, but they will also share exactly how long employees washed their hands. That way, owners can have peace of mind knowing employees’ hands and restaurant surfaces are properly sanitized before customers sit down to eat. With door sensors monitoring customer bathrooms, store owners can ensure adequate cleaning is allocated based on frequency of usage.

Rodent Detection

Owners can also have peace of mind knowing their restaurant is rodent free by using IoT monitored sensors. Rodents are especially dangerous to be found lurking in restaurants because they carry diseases and can cause electrical fires. Devices can be placed throughout the restaurant to detect any motion that occurs. When the devices detect a motion, restaurant owners will receive notifications and will be immediately aware of any rodents that may have snuck into the restaurant.

These sensors give restaurant owners a chance to proactively address a rodent issue before it causes damage to their business.

Routine Monitoring

In addition to monitoring sanitation and detecting motion, restaurant owners can leverage the IoT many other ways. For example, IoT devices can be placed on trash bins to alert when they are full and ready to be taken out. They can also be placed near pipes to detect a leak. Sensors can also be placed on all refrigerators to detect temperature. With accurate updates on refrigerators’ temperatures, restaurant owners can easily monitor and ensure that food is stored at the appropriate temperature around the clock—and be immediately alerted if a power issue causes temperatures to change.

IoT devices can offer restaurant owners insights to help them change their operations and behavior for the better. While everyone is eager to go back to “normal” and want our favorite restaurants to re-open as soon as possible, it is important that restaurant owners have the tools needed to reopen safely—and create efficiencies that can help recoup lost income due to COVID-19 restrictions. Restaurant owners looking to receive real-time, accurate data and insights to help run their restaurants more efficiently and ensure a safe and comfortable experience for customers can turn to the IoT to achieve their goals.

Nicole Lang, igus
Retail Food Safety Forum

Robots Serve Up Safety in Restaurants

By Nicole Lang
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Nicole Lang, igus

Perhaps the top takeaway from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is that people the world over realize how easily viruses can spread. Even with social distancing, masks and zealous, frequent handwashing, everyone has learned contagions can cycle through the atmosphere and put a person at risk of serious, and sometimes deadly, health complications. In reality, there are no safe spaces when proper protocols are not followed.

The primary culprit in transmission of norovirus, according to the CDC, is contaminated food. “The virus can easily contaminate food because it is very tiny and spreads easily,” the CDC says in a fact sheet for food workers posted on its website. “It only takes a very small amount of virus to make someone sick.”

The CDC numbers are alarming. The agency reports about 20 million people get sick from norovirus each year, most from close contact with infected people or by eating contaminated food. Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, and infected food workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food.

The solution to reducing the transmission of unhealthy particles could be starting to take shape through automation. While robots have been used for the past few years in food manufacturing and processing, new solutions take food handling to a new level. Robots are no longer in the back of the house in the food industry, isolated in packaging and manufacturing plants. They are now front and center. The next time you see a salad prepared for you at a favorite haunt, you may be watching a robot.

“The global pandemic has altered the way that we eat,” said Justin Rooney, of Dexai Robotics, a company that developed a food service robotic device. Reducing human contact with food via hands-free ordering and autonomous food serving capabilities has the potential to reduce the spread of pathogens and viruses, and could help keep food fresh for a longer period of time.

Painful Pandemic

Increased use of automation in the foodservice industry might be one of the salvations of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an industry searching for good news, that might be the silver lining in an otherwise gloomful crisis.

Job losses in the restaurant industry have been brutal. By the end of November, nearly 110,000 restaurants in the United States had closed. A report by the National Restaurant Association said restaurants lost three times more jobs than any other industry since the beginning of the pandemic. In December, reports said nearly 17% of U.S. restaurants had closed. Some restaurants clung to life by offering outdoor dining, but as winter set in, that option evaporated. Some governors even demanded restaurant closures as the pandemic escalated in late fall.

Restaurants have faced a chronic labor shortage for years. Despite layoffs during the pandemic, many former foodservice employees are electing to leave the industry.

Teenagers, for instance, and some older workers are staying away for health and safety reasons. Some former workers are also finding out that they can make more money on unemployment benefits than by returning to work. Restaurant chains have hiked wages, but filling positions still remains a challenge.

Automated Solutions

Restaurants began dancing with the idea of robots nearly 50 years ago. The trend started slowly, with customers ordering food directly through kiosks. As of 2011, McDonald’s installed nearly 7,000 touchscreen kiosks to handle cashiering responsibilities at restaurants throughout Europe.

As technology has advanced, so has the presence of robots in restaurants. In 2019 Seattle-based Picnic unveiled a robot that can prepare 300 pizzas in an hour. In January, Nala Robotics announced it would open the world’s first “intelligent” restaurant. The robotic kitchen can create dishes from any cuisine in the world. The kitchen, which is expected to open in April in Naperville, Illinois, will have the capability to create an endless variety of cuisine without potential contamination from human contact.

Dexai designed a new robotic unit that allows for hands-free ordering that can be placed through any device with an Internet connection. The robot also includes a new subsystem for utensils, which are stored in a food bin to keep them temperature controlled. This ensures that robot is compliant with ServSafe regulations. The company is working on improving robot system’s reliability, robustness, safety and user friendliness. The robot has two areas to hold tools, a kitchen display system, bowl passing arm, an enclosure for electronics and two refrigeration units. It has the unique ability to swap utensils to comply with food service standards and prevent contamination as a result of allergens, for example.

Why Automation

Many industries have been impacted by advancements in automation, and the foodservice industry is no different. While initially expensive, the benefits over time can provide to be worth the investment.

One of the most significant advantages, particularly important in the post-COVID era, is better quality control. Automated units can detect issues much earlier in the supply chain, and address those issues.

Automation can also help improve worker safety by executing some of the more repetitive and dangerous tasks. Robots can also boost efficiency (i.e., a robot used for making pizza that can press out dough five times faster than humans and place them into ovens) and eliminate the risk of injury. Robots are also being used to make coffee, manage orders and billing, and prepare the food. Robots can also collect data that will help foodservice owners regarding output, quantity, speed and other factors.

“Alfred’s actions are powered by artificial intelligence,” according to Rooney. “Each time Alfred performs an action, the associated data gets fed into a machine learning model. Consequently, each individual Alfred learns from the accumulated success and failures of every other Alfred that has existed.” Dexai plans to teach the robot to operate other commonly found pieces of kitchen equipment such as grills, fryers, espresso machines, ice cream cabinets and smoothie makers.

Unrelenting Trend

Automated solutions might have come along too late to save many restaurants, but the path forward is clear. While they are not yet everywhere, robots are now in play at significant number of restaurants, and there is no turning back. Any way you slice it, robots in restaurants, clearly, is an idea whose time has come.

Sudip Saha, Future Market Insights
FST Soapbox

Five Trends Defining the Food Industry Post-COVID

By Sudip Saha
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Sudip Saha, Future Market Insights

Food retailers and the entire food and beverage (F&B) industry are now operating very differently than they did some six months ago. The pandemic has brought immense shifts in supply chains, imposed new hazard controls, and—perhaps most importantly—turned consumer preferences upside down.

To accommodate these changes, food manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and others stepped up to innovate and secure the continuity of their services. But now, as many industries begin to drop the notion of ever going back to what once was, it’s time we started thinking about how many of the newly introduced processes will stick around for the long-term.

What will be the main trends defining the food industry as a whole post-COVID?

Adopted Habits Aren’t Going Anywhere

The pandemic brought radical changes to our everyday lives, and it’s clear that many of the newly adopted behaviors won’t disappear overnight. Consumers will continue to rely on grocery retailers to keep them both fed and healthy while expecting minimum disruptions and a high respect for safety regulations—both in terms of handling and the state of delivered products.

Take-home grocery sales grew by 17% between April and July, breaking the record for the fastest period of growth since 1994. Online grocery shopping also gained popularity while managing to engage entirely new demographics. Some 10% of baby boomers now say they would buy more groceries online once the pandemic is over—compared to 34% of Gen Xs and 40% of millennials.

Due to consumer hyper-awareness of safety and sanitation, the whole food industry will continue to be defined by safety practices. Sanitizing common surfaces like keyboards, door handles, tables and chairs regularly will remain the norm. Beyond “manual” rules such as the mandatory use of facemasks, requirements such as regular health checks could boost the adoption of technology across the industry—transforming not only customer-facing interactions but also the processes behind the curtain.

Technology as an Enabler

Every crisis sparks innovation, and the food industry has certainly proved this thesis. Technology has become the ultimate aide, enabling interactions that would otherwise be impossible. These include contactless ordering, payments and pickup—processes that are likely to stick around even beyond COVID-19.

At the same time, the pandemic accelerated the usage of innovations that previously struggled to become mainstream. This includes virtual tipping jars or mobile order-and-pay, such as the options introduced by fast-food giants including McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, and Burger King.

There’s an obvious appetite for F&B companies to further incorporate technology. For example, the Coca-Cola Company is rolling out a touchless fountain experience that can be used with a smartphone for contactless pouring. Heineken, on the other hand, turned to virtual tech to launch a new product—a cardboard topper for multipack beer that will eliminate plastic from millions of cans. With travel restrictions hindering the mobility of engineers, the company leveraged virtual technology to install the new machinery needed at its Manchester-based factory.

But it’s not just solitary innovations; the market has already seen new AI-based technologies that help food businesses better manage risk in their workforce. Food manufacturing, distribution and provision require many different touchpoints; by predicting, monitoring and testing the health and safety of the workers involved in these processes, companies can ensure they keep their operations running, even if another wave of COVID-19 hits. Solutions like these will be crucial when looking to add another layer of safety that goes beyond mandatory governmental regulations.

Food Safety Revamped

Even though COVID-19 is transmitted through airborne respiratory droplets, and the risk of contracting the virus through food is low, people around the world are concerned about the possibility. After all, 40% of people are more careful about washing unpackaged fruit and vegetables than before the pandemic.

The pandemic has already made societies rethink various established concepts, such as wet markets or the consumption of wild animals. The pandemic could, therefore, lead to changed behaviors, and newly imposed rules such as formalizing small and micro food enterprises, provisions for direct sales by farmers, leveraging technology to ensure safety, and investments in a more robust food infrastructure altogether.

Such changes could also irreversibly affect street food—a sector that is bound to feel the hit of COVID-19. Particularly in countries with diverse street food culture, one of the emerging trends will be the rise of gourmet street food brands that can provide both great taste and high hygiene standards.

Food Sustainability to the Forefront

2020 will be a year of reckoning for the world’s food systems. The pandemic exposed the flaws of the global food supply chain that continues to be highly centralized and operating on a just-in-time basis. This is why we have seen panic food runs, urgent supply shortages and high amounts of food waste as many businesses were shut down overnight. In developing countries, several agencies expect that a “hunger pandemic” and a doubling of people starving could happen unless serious action is taken.

As we rethink the underlying principles of the food industry such as safety and supply, other concepts such as transparency and visibility into product sourcing and manufacturing also come into the spotlight. Consumers across the globe are more likely to prioritize offerings that are healthy and locally sourced than they were before COVID-19.

Food produced with the overuse of chemicals in monoculture cropping systems and large-scale animal farming significantly impact the availability of natural resources and cause substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Added to that, practices like industrial animal farming that operate with large numbers of livestock in confined spaces are a breeding ground for viruses, and have been linked to prior outbreaks such as the outbreak of swine flu in 2009. They also enable the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms due to the common overuse of antibiotics administered to prevent infections caused by cramped living conditions.

Consumers are increasingly aware of this: Nearly 25% of Americans are now eating more plant-based food. As we move forward, diverse food companies are likely to tap into this trend, resulting in great opportunities for plant-based, nutritious, local, and even healthy DIY meals and products. For example, an Australian food producer has recently announced the launch of a new proprietary product range that will offer the first vegan ready-to-drink protein shakes on the Australian market.

A New Way of Dining

The restaurant market has been one of the direct victims of the pandemic but has shown impressive elasticity in adapting to the new realities. Many businesses have introduced service extensions such as deliveries and take-outs, as well as pop-up grocery stores. Enjoying great popularity, some of these options will stick around far beyond the pandemic.

However, there’s a counterforce hindering significant expansion: The simple fact that many consumers discovered a new joy in cooking. A recent study notes that 54% of Americans are now cooking more than they were before the pandemic, with 35% saying that they “enjoy cooking more now than ever.” But at the same time, 33% of consumers say they’re getting more takeout than before the pandemic. This implies that the post-pandemic normal will likely see a shift toward eating at home more often, whether that means cooking or takeout and delivery.

Therefore, restaurants are likely to continue diversifying their services, experiment with food bundles and DIY meal kits, or even luxurious in-home chef visit experiences as an alternative to high-end restaurant dining.

The past crises have shown that economic uncertainty is directly linked to changes in demand for private-label and value brands. After the 2008 financial crisis, 60% of U.S. consumers were more interested in reasonably priced products with core features than in higher-priced, cutting-edge products. So while luxury dining is not completely disappearing, it could take on other aspects.

In Denmark, for example, a two-Michelin star restaurant is moving to serve burgers. In China, a country that many look to as the model for the post-COVID world, there has also been a clear push toward more affordable dining as well. Hot pot and barbecue venues have been thriving, particularly among customers in their 20s and 30s. Many fine dining restaurants, on the other hand, have started offering affordable lunch menus or have cut prices to correspond to the current value-conscious behaviors.

It’s clear that the future of food retail and the F&B industry will be significantly marked by the pandemic. Its prolonged nature will also cause the newly adopted habits to become further solidified—and many processes will adapt to match them. For example, while contactless deliveries were accelerated in the past months, businesses are working hard to make them as efficient as convenient as possible, making it unlikely that such investments would be erased overnight, once COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

Checklist

2020 FSC Episode 1 Wrap: Food Defense & Food Safety Culture Go Hand-in-Hand

By Maria Fontanazza
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Checklist

Yesterday marked the beginning of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. Episode 1 featured Food Defense Foundational Planning Elements: Strategies, Insights and Best Practices. Led by Jason Bashura, senior manager, global defense at PepsiCo, food defense experts from manufacturing, retail and the government shared different perspectives on the FSMA Intentional Adulteration rule; how to develop a food defense plan; the key role that food safety culture plays in food defense; education and training; and establishing awareness of and combating various threats to the food supply, including the insider threat.

Especially eye-opening was the information presented by Robert Norton, Ph.D. of Auburn University about the threats against the food supply (a “target-rich environment”) and the range of adversaries and their motivation for disrupting the food supply.

Summer of 2020: Hot Topics Include FDA Inspections, Records Retention, and New Technology Era

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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10

Is Food-Grade always Food-Safe?

9

Important Restaurant Food Storage Safety Tips You Need to Know

8

How a History of Slow Technology Adoption Across Food Supply Chains Nearly Broke Us

7

FDA Unveils Blueprint for New Era of Smarter Food Safety

6

FDA, CDC Investigating Multistate Cyclospora Outbreak Involving Bagged Salads

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COVID-19 Leads Food Companies and Meat Processors to Explore AI and Robotics, Emphasize Sanitation, and Work from Home

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FDA Announces Inspections Will Resume…Sort Of

3

Sustainability Strategies for the Food Industry

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Top Three Visibility Challenges in Today’s Food Supply Chain

1

The COVID-19 Record Retention Conundrum