Keep on top of food safety with temperature technology

20 December 2022 by

Ensure food safety with mistake-proof technology for recording temperatures and alerting staff

Digital technology can work wonders in removing the sheer slog, inaccuracies and unwieldy paper trails inherent in manual food safety processes. But inspectors report that many caterers are yet to take advantage of these time-saving tools and struggle to fulfil and fully understand their HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) obligations.

The current turbulent climate is no time for caterers to take their eye off the food safety ball as Jason Webb, managing director at Electronic Temperature Instruments (ETI), points out: "The hospitality industry is at another critical stage. It has just come up for air following the aftermath of a global pandemic. Now it is facing rising and unprecedented utility costs which are pushing some hospitality businesses to the brink, with some facing a 500% increase in energy prices.

"This is against a backdrop of a customer-base which is, quite rightly, paying more attention to food safety standards. Instant access to data across the farm-to fork process has never been more important, especially when every minute and every pound counts."

Food-borne illnesses impact 600 million people each year, according to the World Health Organisation, and UK research from consultant Food Alert found Food Hygiene Ratings (Scores on the Doors) to be decision makers or breakers for consumers deciding where to eat out that could spell the difference between business success or failure.

"Any business serving food is required by law to have a food safety management system in place based on HACCP principles. It is essential that this is ready before you open for business and that steps are followed rigorously when in operation, because authorities can call at any time to carry out inspections and/or request your HACCP records," explains a spokesperson for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), whose services included HACCP training courses.

"The majority of the time, it's the simplest things that can make the biggest difference when it comes to safety and compliance – temperature control and safety checks being two important factors to consider," says Mario Kelly, commercial director at Kelsius.

However, checking and recording food temperatures from delivery to plate is not so simple, he concedes: "Different foods have different temperature requirements for chilling, freezing, heating and storing, with high-risk foods like meat, dairy, seafood and eggs subject to the strictest rules. This is where technology can play a big part in making the checking process so much quicker, easier and more reliable."

Game plan

Creating a HACCP plan can be time-consuming for caterers that lack expert knowledge. Aware from her 20-plus years as a HACCP consultant how many foodservice businesses struggle to comply with food safety rules and complete required tasks daily and on time, Katrin Liivat founded FoodDocs to ease operators over this initial hurdle.

"With the help of a machine-learning program, the software creates a HACCP plan in less than one hour and can set up a food safety monitoring system in 15 minutes," explains Liivat. "This software saves at least 120 working hours on getting compliant and at least 20% of time spent on daily food safety activities."

The digital HACCP plan is easily revised to reflect the inspector's recommendations and is backed by a free online template hub. Tasks are assigned via the downloadable mobile app, which incorporates pre-filling features and detailed instructions for monitoring sheets to train new staff and ensure they complete all food safety tasks correctly. Add in an instant, real-time overview dashboard and the system can slash 20% off supervision time, says Liivat.

Many appliances are now equipped with wireless connectivity that monitors and records their operating processes, such as Leibherr's commercial fridges and freezers which, says national account manager Andy Clarke, incorporate a HACCP-compliant electronic control system that can connect to external temperature logging software.

Benefits include accurate temperature setting; a smart, energy-saving defrost; an integrated data logger to record and store minimum and maximum interior temperatures for HACCP compliance; and visual/audible alerts when temperatures deviate from set thresholds. Air ducts keep food fresh by improving air circulation and temperature distribution.

Stores on the doors

Correct storage is a key consideration, agrees Webb at ETI: "Overfilling refrigerators and cool rooms with produce reduces the air flow and leads to hot spots where bacteria can flourish, even if you think you have the right temperature set on the dial. To combat this, caterers should keep an inventory of how much their stock needs to be refrigerated and use this technology to back temperature recordings every few hours so that it never goes above critical limits.

The constant harvesting and monitoring of data through wireless data loggers is invaluable for consistent temperature control, adds Webb. The 24/7 surveillance and real-time information can help nip unforeseen issues in the bud – such as power outages during the night – while the data is transmitted to the cloud for remote access. "This ensures checks are completed correctly, issues are identified, and corrective actions are taken to reduce spoilage," Webb adds.

The FoodCheck digital temperature monitoring and HACCP system from Kelsius provides an accurate, efficient, tamperproof and auditable record of temperature checks and tasks that will, says Kelly, help operators avoid the food safety failures that can unleash consumer boycotts or litigation, fines, potential closure and reputational ruin.

The cloud-based system is available in two versions to cater for smaller venues (FoodCheck2Go) and those with larger operation and budgets (FoodCheck 2.0).

FoodCheck2Go combines digital Bluetherm probes, food thermometers and Samsung tablets for staff to monitor and record delivery, fridge, cook and cool food temperatures. Handy features include automated reminders for temperature checks and hygiene tasks, alerts for uncompleted actions, and traceability by use-by dates and batch codes.

FoodCheck 2.0 adds fixed sensors to fridges, freezers, chilled displays and storage areas that will alert staff to any temperature fluctuations to keep food safe and spoilage to a minimum. Safety Expert founder Natalie Stanton finds many operators still rely on paper-based systems, missing out on the automated, de-risked ease and speed offered by digital technologies. "A cloud-based HACCP system can't be misplaced and will always be accessible," she says.

"Digital temperature monitoring equipment will remove human errors and the falsification of records. Often people shy away from paperwork, but people are always on their phones." "Companies that can invest in the speed of their operation will reap rewards in a climate which is seeing growing costs to employ people," agrees Webb at ETI. "Technology allows organisations to react faster to situations because of instant access to accurate data."

Digital resort

Switching its food safety management system from a manual process to the Kelsius FoodCheck 2.0 digital solution has increased efficiency and accountability at Surrey's Thorpe Park Resort, while delivering significant cost and time savings, reports Mark Thorndycraft, head of food and beverage for Aramark Thorpe Park.

The set-up includes 90 fixed sensors in kitchens, restaurants, fridges and freezers with mobile Bluetooth temperature probes and Samsung tablets for staff.

"Before installing the Kelsius system, we didn't have full reassurance that our stock was being monitored consistently. Appointed staff members would record temperatures twice daily on all storage units but outside of these times, we couldn't be fully confident that our temperatures were all at optimal levels," explains Thorndycraft. "Having real-time temperature monitoring installed gives us the reassurance we were missing."

The sensor alarms that warn staff of temperature deviations have saved the resort thousands of pounds in stock loss and reduced food waste levels, says Thorndycraft.

The system has also freed up six hours a day (42 hours a week) that staff previously spent manually checking temperatures with traditional pen and paper records and saved around 25,000 sheets of paper annually.

Expert viewpoint

Earlier this year, Natalie Stanton launched the Safety Expert – the UK's first on-demand, video-based Level 2 Food Safety & Hygiene training course created and delivered by an environmental health officer – to remedy the worrying lack of basic knowledge about HACCP she has encountered among catering staff.

"Having worked as an environmental health officer [EHO] in local government for 10 years, it surprised me how many businesses would give me a blank look when I asked to see their food safety management system (FSMS) or HACCP," explains Stanton. "Eventually, they may produce the relevant documen, or I would hear excuses such as ‘it's with the accountant'. Often staff simply didn't know what it was or where to find it.

"As an EHO this was frustrating, I wanted businesses to succeed. I wanted to be able to give them a food hygiene rating of five, but the scoring is clear. This simply isn't possible if the business doesn't score well in the ‘confident in management element'. Without a documented FSMS in place, a business will struggle to achieve more than one out of five."

The key failings Stanton observed included:

  • No FSMS at all.
  • FSMS not being followed in practice – for instance, not storing raw foods below cooked foods.
  • SFBB (Safer Food, Better Business ) protocols are uncompleted or missing.
  • Temperature records and daily checks are uncompleted or completed incorrectly.

"Awareness and training are key issues. Many small businesses simply aren't aware of how the scoring system works and precisely what an EHO is looking for during a food hygiene inspection," she says. "Councils are under-resourced and EHOs are often under pressure to complete inspections. This means they can't spend time coaching and educating businesses on the importance of HACCP."



Electronic Temperature Instruments

Food Alert



Liebherr The Safety Expert

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