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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Technology is Elevating Food Safety Practices & Protocols

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

Technology is elevating food safety practices and protocols, and will help reduce or eliminate food safety incidents and outbreaks in the future. However, a major challenge will be getting food businesses to adopt these tech tools. Food service companies have been slower than other industries to adopt technology, preferring instead to do things “the way they’ve always done them”— often using antiquated pen and paper systems to track food safety standards. Often, food business owners are worried about the cost and implementation of tech solutions, fearing that they’ll be too expensive and/or complex for them to manage.

Something has to change in our industry. Food recalls are on the rise—recently with a huge nationwide romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak and recall. Even a big name packaged breakfast cereal was recently recalled for possible contamination.

America’s food industry has a $55.5 billion safety problem annually, as reported by Fortune magazine (This information was gathered from a 2015 study by Robert Scharff,  an associate professor at Ohio State University, who estimated that foodborne illnesses cost $55.5 billion per year in medical treatment, lost productivity, and illness-related mortality in the United States). This includes foodborne illnesses at restaurants and retailers, food recalls, and other food safety issues.

The CDC reports that 48 million Americans become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. Therefore, investing in food safety is one of the smartest things that food service organizations can do. The expense, time and energy necessary to implement—or elevate—your organization’s food safety protocols won’t be overwhelming, and it’s crucial to your business’ success.

Foodborne illnesses are expensive and damaging for businesses. Having a foodborne illness incident or outbreak can cost significant money—including decreased revenues, hefty legal fees, potential lawsuits, diminished sales (and loyalty) from guests afraid to visit the (possibly contaminated) restaurant or store, and a damaged reputation that could permanently shut your doors.

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Food safety should be part of every company’s culture. Everyone—on every shift—should be trained in proper food safety protocols. And, since tech solutions have become more accessible and mainstream, more food businesses should adopt and use them.

The latest technologies are elevating the way many food service businesses operate. Not only do these technological tools make food safer, but they can also save restaurants, convenience stores, hotels and other food service companies a tremendous amount of money each year.

Technological solutions enhance food safety protocols and make it faster, more accurate, and more efficient to conduct inventory, auditing, training and keep food safe. Investing in technology is something that all food businesses should do to help boost the health and safety of their establishments.

Nothing will negatively impact your organization’s brand and reputation more than a foodborne illness outbreak. While human error can never be completely eliminated, advancements in technology help minimize the risks. Some innovative developments include:

  • Sensors. Sensors ensure foods are being held at proper temperatures. For instance, centralized, continuous refrigeration monitoring systems signal when temperatures in coolers or freezers rise above safe holding temperatures, eliminating the need to throw away entire coolers or freezers of food due to improperly working units. As a result, businesses can save thousands of dollars (or more) in lost product and potentially save lives by storing cold foods properly.
  • Digital auditing tools. Innovative digital tools can now be used for food companies’ internal auditing systems, which is a more efficient, cost-effective and accurate solution versus the pen and paper methods that are often (and widely) used in the food service industry. Using pen and paper to audit restaurants, hotels, institutions and stores often results in increased labor, time, errors and expenses. Additionally, hard copy records can be hard to organize and access—and it’s extremely difficult to integrate and analyze the data. Digital tools provide more efficient, cost-effective internal auditing systems, with records that are easy to access and analyze.
  • Mobile solutions. The food service industry is comprised of many employees from younger generations (e.g., millennials and Gen Z), and these populations have grown up on their smartphones. Now, food businesses can leverage digital tools that can be used on cell phones and tablets, which is an easy and effective way to engage younger employees. Many companies are providing downloadable apps that enhance the way food service employees conduct inspections, keep temperature logs, conduct training, manage QA forms, access food code information, and more. Critical food safety information can (literally) be at employees’ fingertips.

These (and other!) tech solutions offer significant benefits to food service businesses, including:

  • Boosting operational systems. Digital tools can help with brand protection and quality assurance concerns by optimizing and improving line checks, shift logs, inspections, auditing and other reporting.
  • Improving the bottom line. Investing in technology boosts companies’ operational efficiencies, which has been proven to improve their bottom line. Technology tools can reduce or prevent food spoilage, reduce labor costs and help avoid foodborne illnesses.
  • Reducing fraud. There’s a widespread “pencil whipping” problem in the food service industry, where employees using paper record systems falsify records or “cheat” on their processes. As much as food service leadership wants to deny that “pencil whipping” happens in their organizations, it’s (unfortunately) a fairly common practice in restaurants, convenience stores and other industry businesses. Pencil whipping can result in increased food safety risks, food code violations and other (potentially costly) issues. Digital tools can help reduce or eliminate “pencil whipping” through real-time data collection, and visual records using photos and videos.

While technology has previously been considered to be a luxury, today, digital tools are affordable, widespread and accessible. Technology that can help minimize labor, reduce (or eliminate) foodborne illness risks, and minimize food waste is not an expense, it’s an important investment.

Technology streamlines operations, improves safety protocols, reduces errors, integrates data—and so much more. The benefits are huge. Often, food service owners tell me that they can’t afford the investment, or that they’re overwhelmed about how to find and implement the right system. I reassure them that it’s truly easier than ever to incorporate tech tools into food companies, and it’s one of the smartest things companies can do. Innovative technology tools are critical to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.