There is at least one food recall every day in the U.S.
Foodborne illnesses cost the nation more than $15 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The economic loss alone is prompting the government to try to get a handle on the issue—particularly in the restaurant industry. Helping operators in the fast-food industry is just one goal in its national Healthy People 2020 campaign. (healthypeople.gov).
Most operators are already exercising care when it comes to preventing foodborne illnesses and, yet, the outbreaks continue—from contaminated romaine lettuce in salads to E.coli introduced inadvertently by employees. Simply put, kitchens in charge of getting food out of the kitchen to customers—fast—need to take extra care.
The answer could lie in transparency, said the National Environmental Health Agency’s president Vince Radke in a column he wrote recently about the issue.
What’s the best way to go about protecting customers from foodborne illnesses?
Radke says a certified food protection manager (CFPM) deployed in restaurants statistically results in fewer foodborne disease outbreaks than restaurants without a CFPM—as well as fewer violations. A CFPM can assist with training and checking that inventory is rotated in a timely manner.
Transparency in inventory is another idea. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is now frequently used to track inventory as it moves through the supply chain. When was that romaine harvested? What farm did it come from? When did you receive it? Wireless scanners capture this information at the source and it travels through each stage in the supply chain, the information stored on the Cloud where a CFPM, manager or any other employee can access it during a recall. It’s a great way to quickly figure out if your restaurants are affected and take action to remove the item from the food supply.
Cooling and storage is another area most fast food operators can improve. Equipment failures in refrigerators and freezers can be difficult to identify. When did the malfunction occur? How hot did the cooler get—and for how long has it been malfunctioning?
These are important questions that are nearly impossible to answer if you’re not tracking the temperatures in your coolers 24/7. Easy-to-install wireless sensors are available that collect data and send it to a common portal which then loads the info to the Cloud, allowing operators to quickly spot subpar equipment that may need maintenance or replacement —before disaster strikes. Monitoring temperatures also provides definitive information instead of relying on guesswork.
Improving just one of these issues will improve your ability to ensure food safety. And that’s the objective of both government and industry that is attracting the public’s attention during National Food Safety Month.
Ryan Yost is vice president for the Printer Solutions Division (PSD) for Avery Dennison Corporation. Avery Dennison Printer Solutions responds to the unique challenges of businesses in the food, retail and fulfillment markets. Its solutions are rooted in efficiency, cost savings, food safety and sustainability through intelligent innovations that solve business problems and improve business processes.