Food safety: the benefits of digital monitoring technology

By Andrew Thomson, Think ST Solutions
Monday, 13 July, 2020

Food safety: the benefits of digital monitoring technology

Food safety in hospitals and residential aged care requires a higher level of attention and priority by senior management and boards of directors. Many clients who fall into the vulnerable populations category are at a higher risk of developing a foodborne illness.

In Australia, all hospitals and residential aged-care operations have a legal requirement under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to develop Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)-based food safety programs. Facilities are required to maintain the effectiveness, suitability and adequacy of the food safety program and constantly seek ways to improve their policies, procedures, practices and operations. When these requirements were first introduced more than 15 years ago, they were designed as a paper-based data collection and record management system.

Records are routinely audited by food regulatory authorities to ensure they follow food safety standards and comply with the Food Act to produce safe and suitable food. A key component of a food safety program is for kitchen operations to: record food temperatures from the point of receiving food supplies to final cooking temperatures; monitor refrigeration and freezer temperatures; monitor temperatures of food and equipment before service; enact cleaning and sanitising procedures for equipment; and monitor temperatures in dishwashing machines.

Kitchens are fast-paced environments. Employees that prepare, cook and serve meals have an extremely heavy workload. The constant need for completing daily paper checklists to ensure client safety significantly impacts on productivity and takes up valuable time that could be better spent elsewhere. In addition, following up on incomplete records or processes can be time-intensive for managers. Paper records need to be stored, analysed and prepared for the regulator at audit, adding to overheads and further impacting on productivity.

Collecting food safety data and stockpiling the paper logs for compliance purposes is simply not sufficient in preventing a food safety incident from occurring. It does require studying the data for improving processes and practices and developing a better system.

We know there is an increasing number of hospitals and residential aged-care kitchen operations that have received poor audit outcomes, with auditors identifying inadequate monitoring and recording of food and equipment temperatures and other incomplete paper-based records.

Replacing the paperwork with digital technology — using handheld devices that record critical information and wireless sensors that automatically monitor coldrooms and freezer units — will provide food-handling employees with more time, enabling them to be more productive while food safety is being monitored.

Digital records are immediately available. Here are the benefits.

Accuracy: A digital system removes human error and ensures food safety program compliance by using modern digital data-logging equipment providing time, date stamps and temperature data.

This type of system collects temperature data of equipment such as coldrooms, freezers, refrigerators, deli cases and dishwashers at set intervals using sensors. This reduces the likelihood of delays or inconsistent temperature measurement and recording using manual methods by kitchen employees.

Digital technology that uploads monitoring data automatically, remotely or to the cloud can be analysed immediately for any discrepancies, such as missed checks or out-of-range readings.

Consistency: Today’s technology ensures consistent recording of temperatures to satisfy internal reporting requirements and those of food regulatory agencies.

Efficiency: Temperature-monitoring devices have low power consumption.

Flexibility: Current temperature-measuring devices provide flexibility: whether it’s a fixed-location device in a coldroom or a convenient handheld measuring device for measuring cooked food, information can be stored internally or through a wireless connection to external storage on a designated computer on the premises or in the cloud.

Responsiveness: When the temperature-measuring sensor picks up a change in environmental conditions leading to unsafe conditions, key kitchen or maintenance employees are alerted immediately. They can then respond by transferring food or dishes to appropriate storage areas and investigate the problem as well as throwing away food that does not meet safety and quality standards.

Audit trail: Supports traceability of food products and provides a complete recorded history.

Proper temperature management is of critical importance for all hospital and residential aged-care facilities. Careful monitoring of temperatures in many areas around the kitchen, coldrooms and fridges is essential for maintaining high standards of food safety. Modern cooking equipment has built-in data collection technology to assist in this regard.

Managers with responsibility for food safety oversight should welcome the multiple benefits of this type of digital data technology as they will be able to view the current state of their kitchen operations in a live state. Reviewing digital data allows the manager and other key personnel to spot trends over time and change processes or procedures to improve performance.

There are too many risks and limitations with paper logs — it’s an old-fashioned and inefficient way of performing a monitoring activity. It also impedes business activity in so many ways.

In addition to assisting the bottom line, investing in a temperature-monitoring system will take the risk out of uncertainty and provide kitchen operations with the confidence and assurance needed to manage food safety compliance and risk.

Image credit: Amanda Kelly

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