"Flippy”—the world’s first burger flipping robot—launched March at a Caliburger restaurant in California. Capable of grilling 150 burgers per hour, the robot was praised for being cost-effective, efficient and able to safely and consistently prepare food for the restaurant’s guests. The robot was designed to take orders through a digital ticketing system, then automatically flip the burgers and remove them from the grill. Flippy uses thermal and 3-D sensors, cameras and digital ordering systems to detect every step in the process, such as when the raw burgers are placed on the grill. Then the robot monitors each burger throughout its cooking process. While Flippy can expertly (and automatically) handle the burger flipping, its human coworkers still need to place the patties on the grill, put on the toppings (cheese, lettuce, sauce), and wrap the burgers for guests.
At Spyce, an innovative new restaurant in Boston, human chefs have been replaced with robots, thanks to robotics engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology who partnered with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud on this endeavor. In the restaurant’s kitchen, seven automated woks cook guests’ meals in three minutes or less. Once guests place their orders, an automated delivery system collects ingredients from around the restaurant kitchen. Machines portion the ingredients into the correct amounts and deliver them to a robotic wok, which is programmed to cook the foods to proper temperatures. Once the cooking is completed, the automated wok tilts down to plate the food, which is then ready to be served.
While robots in restaurants’ kitchens may sound like the plotline of a sci-fi movie, technology is actually elevating food safety in our restaurants and other food businesses. There’s a major trend in the food service industry to remove humans from safety management and replace them with technological solutions, such as robots and sensors. In fact, tech tools—robotics and artificial intelligence, data analytics, the Internet of Things, etc.—are already having huge, positive implications for supply chain management and food safety. This is just the beginning.
There’s no denying: there have been numerous, widespread, and serious food safety breaches in our restaurants lately. Quick-service restaurants have inadvertently sickened guests due to human errors—such as time-temperature abuse. Quick-serve workers have spread the highly contagious norovirus by contaminating the food (and surfaces) they’ve touched, sickening as many as hundreds of guests per incident. There have also been multiple examples of food safety breaches caused by tainted produce—including two different widespread E.coli outbreaks stemming from contaminated romaine lettuce—at restaurants nationwide.
What if we could prevent or reduce these incidents by using technological solutions—such as robots, Artificial Intelligence, sensors, the Internet of Things, etc.? Now, we can.
Tech solutions give us automation—robots are programmed to do the same things, the same way every time, giving us the consistency we can’t get from human workers. For example, a burger flipping robot can be programmed to avoid cross-contamination, use only sanitized equipment, and cook the burgers to proper temperatures. Sensors can immediately detect potential problems that could cause food safety breaches – such as coolers rising above a pre-set temperature, freezer doors inadvertently left open, and meats that have not been cooked to proper (safe) temperatures.
Some innovative developments in the food industry include:
Recent food safety breaches have been numerous, widespread and serious. Consumers are (understandably) anxious about eating a Caesar salad after two major E.coli outbreaks around romaine lettuce. Proteins have been recalled—literally hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time. These are NOT isolated incidents. We have seen recall after recall, and food safety breaches are making headlines month after month. This must stop. And technological solutions are the answer to this serious, continuous problem.
Everyone in the food industry—from the farmers that grow our food to the restaurant chefs that prepare it—should use and embrace tech tools. While some tech solutions might not be viable for all businesses—clearly, not every restaurant can afford a $60,000 robot like Flippy—tech solutions are becoming more mainstream, accessible and affordable. Even if your restaurant can’t afford a burger-flipping robot, many food businesses can certainly utilize more cost-effective solutions: digital checklists that improve your internal safety inspections, food thermometers with sensors to ensure foods are being cooked to proper temperatures, and equipment sensors, which notify company leadership of a break in protocol—such as the walk-in cooler rising above a set temperature. Technology is helping to keep foods safer—something that humans have been failing at recently.
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