Over the last decade, restaurant and retail food safety has taken a huge leap forward, largely due to the adoption of food safety systems incorporating wireless technology, advanced sensors and data analytics. Top quick-serve restaurant brands with their large networks of stores have led the charge in adopting these systems. As a result, they’ve streamlined operations, increased food safety and achieved uniform standards across all locations.
Leveraging cloud-based technology, these food safety systems combine Bluetooth temperature probes and equipment specific sensors to perform fast and accurate temperature screenings (for both food and equipment). These sensors integrate directly into digital checklists with a management view that provides insights across teams, as well as necessary visibility for employees who use the product daily.
The food safety industry continues to innovate and adopt new technologies. Forward-looking brands are developing new ways to incorporate these technologies into their operations and ultimately rise above competition. Let’s take a look at some of the technology innovations that will drive food safety systems in the year to come.
Food safety systems are deploying a new generation of smart sensors that help automate previously time- and paper-intensive tasks. For example, foodservice employees have historically used a probe in a walk-in freezer to manually test food temperatures. Now, temperature sensors automate this process. With LoRaWAN as its connectivity backbone, food safety systems are deploying a new generation of smart sensors.
LoRaWAN is a low-power, wide area networking protocol built on top of the LoRa radio modulation technique. LoRaWAN wirelessly connects devices to the internet and manages communication between end-node devices and network gateways. It leapfrogs over previous generations of WiFi and cellular tech to provide pervasive connectivity that can penetrate solid objects like refrigerators and freezers.
When placed in a freezer, a smart sensor tracks the ambient temperature, and then calibrates the temperatures of individual products—from meat to cheese to vegetables—without having to touch them or open their packaging. Instead, the temperature-check task is performed instantly. These cutting-edge sensors eliminate the need for employees to physically check temperatures. Even more, smart sensors prevent major inventory loss from food spoilage by flagging any temperature issues early.
Instead of a paper checklist on a clipboard and a pencil behind the ear, store employees carry tablets loaded with role-specific digital checklists and documents. Restaurant employees can use these tablets everywhere—from the “front of house” seating area to the “back of house” line station. Tablets give individuals the freedom to move throughout a store or restaurant while remaining connected to their to-do list.
At the individual employee level, each tablet contains role-specific functions. Restaurant staff can access a digital checklist that ensures their work is done correctly and efficiently. At the management level, individuals have more visibility into daily performance. Managers also have access to a library of files, such as compliance documents, that can be pulled up at a moment’s notice and shown to inspectors.
The document library should be tailored to meet the needs of each and every brand. For example, a pizza brand like Domino’s has a big delivery fleet, so the tablet could include a vehicle inspection log. The digital checklist also needs to auto configure checklists and workflows for each specific business.
Tablets definitely support the moving nature of restaurant operations as employees swiftly walk a number of steps per day. Both managers and staff can move about a restaurant and store and complete their tasks without being tied to a desk.
For some staff, however, even a tablet is too restrictive. For highly-mobile employees, savvy brands are investigating and deploying hands-free devices. Integration between the food safety system and an Apple or Android watch, for example, frees up kitchen or drive-thru employees to access their digital checklist on the go. Some brands may go even further by introducing a dedicated smart wearable device.
Once the digital checklist and document library is configured, all of these documents can be distributed across multiple locations. This ensures uniform operations across a brand. Such information-sharing also feeds a steady data stream back to headquarters where data analytics tools provide better visibility into what’s working and what’s not. Headquarters can identify opportunities and remediate bad practices, such as pencil whipping, or they can schedule more training in a store where a task is taking too long. With more data at their fingertips, management can also do cohort analysis to evaluate efficiencies across their brand.
Improved Employee Communications
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on food service recruitment and retention. Many restaurants and retailers are chronically short-staffed. The labor shortage impacts everything from the quality of customer service to a location’s ability to remain open. Across the industry, brands are eager to find ways to better communicate with and support the staff that they have.
A food safety platform has the potential to be a two-way communication tool between managers and their staff. By enabling managers to send a text notification to all staff, the system can streamline communication tasks that were previously time intensive.
For instance, when an employee calls in sick, the manager must call down the list of employees to find a potential replacement. However, a quick text notification can reach everyone at once and promptly find a replacement. Text alerts can also be used to inform employees of a delayed opening. A 2 a.m. text of a snow closure is much more welcome than a call that wakes up employees in the middle of the night.
Likewise, managers are looking for new ways to reward and motivate their employees. Whether it’s gamified or a simple rewards system, this can prove invaluable in an era of tight recruitment. A manager might decide to reference the digital food safety task completion rates across multiple stores and award the highest-performing location with one extra vacation day.
There is no shortage of new technology to be deployed in or alongside a food safety system. Early adopters promise to create more efficient and friendly restaurants that are a pleasure for customers to visit and for staff to thrive in.
Jay Jungalwala is Chief Technology Officer at Squadle, Inc., a technology company that enables multi-unit operators to simplify complex operations and streamline food safety.