In the UK, it is estimated that each year around one million people suffer from food-borne illnesses. Some 20,000 are hospitalised and the cost of food-borne illnesses is around £1.5 billion per year. Food safety has become a high-profile issue publicly and many diners now take into account the cleanliness of a restaurant, using websites and social media to check reviews and reputations before going in.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is one of the sources that make information on food hygiene ratings public. The FSA uses HACCP based food safety management systems that include a series of checks and procedures to control the processes and sensitive points in the food chain. The HACCP system has been recognised as an international standard for safe food production and the World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted it as the most effective means for ensuring food safety.
Two of the main causes of food-borne illness addressed by HACCP are poor hygiene processes and inadequate temperature control when storing and serving raw and cooked products. For most restaurants, food producers and other food service outlets, food safety monitoring requires manually checking food storage conditions including temperature and humidity as well as recording the temperature of prepared foods and the completion of food hygiene checks. These checks are typically performed at regular three to four hour intervals each and every day.
This work is often carried out by employees who may be inadequately trained in food hygiene, while a high turnover of staff and inexperienced managers, combined with the constant pressure to reduce costs, can lead to corners being cut. In a typical restaurant, it can take over an hour for sous chefs or line cooks to complete manual line and quality checks and to complete the necessary paper-based reports.
However, technology is now coming to the rescue with a new generation of paper-less HACCP solutions that harness the latest wireless monitoring technology. Smart wireless sensor-based systems can be used in refrigerators and other food preparation and holding areas to provide continuous automated 24/7 monitoring of temperature, humidity and door status. Associated wireless handheld sensors can also be used collect food temperature and hygiene check data at the press of a button, dramatically speeding up the process and reducing the risk of human error. All data is user-authenticated, time-stamped and downloaded wirelessly to a centralised PC-based system and stored in a secure database, which automatically generates food safety compliance reports, along with a full audit trail in case of site inspections or future investigations.
In addition to automating the process of food safety monitoring, wireless technology can be used to send alarms to your PC, tablet or smartphone, providing immediate notification if there is a problem with cold storage and food temperatures to ensure food safety and to prevent costly food spoilage in the event of a hardware failure. To see the value of this service, you need only look at a recent case of the restaurateur whose chef left the door of a walk in refrigerator open overnight. He returned the next morning to find that all his specialty foods, meats and proteins had gone bad, costing about £25,000 in food alone.
Wireless technology is inherently flexible and a modular system can be used for any type of food operation and scaled from a single local site through to multi-site operations, using web-based software to configure, monitor and manage the complete network from one location.
Facing increasing cost pressures, competition and compliance demands, restaurants and foodservice businesses can no longer afford to take risks with their food safety monitoring. A food-borne illness or failure to meet HACCP requirements doesn’t just damage reputations; it can lead to costly litigation and, in extreme cases, closure. Wireless technology will not eliminate the problems, but can make a major contribution to mitigating the risks.
Dr Martin Nash is product manager at Elektron Technology that is home to world-class brands in innovative and fast-moving engineered products (FMEP). Its new Checkit wireless food safety monitoring solution is completely paperless, simple to install and can be up and running within 30 minutes to protect any hot or cold food preparation and storage area.
For more information, please visit www.checkit.net