Restaurateurs have two pressing problems that are always top-of-mind. One of the most important responsibilities that restaurants have is to keep their foods—and their guests—safe from foodborne illness. Secondly, the foodservice industry has an ongoing struggle with preventing expensive (and wasteful) product loss. The most common cause for both of these problems is time-temperature abuse. In fact, more than 85 percent of restaurants’ food safety and product loss issues revolve around time and temperature.
In some cases, restaurants lose power after-hours and their freezers and cooling units rise above the “safe zone,” putting foods at risk. Sometimes equipment malfunctions. Perhaps a team member inadvertently leaves the walk-in cooler door or cooling drawer open and the restaurant staff is too busy or distracted to notice. In any of these scenarios, temperatures could easily rise into the “danger zone,” where bacteria quickly multiplies. Then your staff has a difficult choice to make: do they throw out the product, lose significant money and disrupt service, or do they hope for the best, serve it to the guests, and cross their fingers that nobody gets sick that evening?
Foodborne illness outbreaks can be catastrophic. In addition to sickening—or even killing—guests, restaurants can face terrible fallout from a food safety breach. Some repercussions include loss of customers’ trust, negative online comments, bad press, expensive litigation, profit loss and even business ruin. One innocent error in the kitchen can lead to foodborne illness, which can be irreparable.
In addition, food waste has become a significant problem in our nation’s restaurants, with an enormous amount of food being tossed every day. According to a recent report from ChefHero, a single restaurant can generate between 25,000 and 75,000 pounds of food waste per year. Since food costs are typically around 28-35 percent of a restaurant’s expenses (approximately one-third of overall costs), reducing food waste can significantly boost restaurants’ profitability.
Now, there’s an effective solution to help prevent food safety and food waste issues: continuous temperature monitoring sensors. In an industry with tight margins and rising competition, it’s imperative for restaurants to embrace automated temp sensors to eliminate expensive product loss and ensure brand protection.
The newest continuous temperature monitoring sensors are more reliable, affordable, accessible and easy-to-use than ever before. Yet less than 5 percent of restaurants are using them. Many restaurateurs are unaware that these digital sensors can solve two of their biggest concerns in an accurate, reliable and powerful way.
Deploying continuous equipment temperature sensors in restaurants offers many benefits. This technology can:
- Improve food safety—Continuous monitoring sensors help ensure that equipment is working properly, monitor temperatures around the clock, and provide real-time alerts to any malfunctions or other issues that could create food safety risks. If temperatures in the walk-in or freezers rise above a certain level, restaurant staff will receive alerts, allowing them to immediately rectify the situation and prevent dangerous bacteria from tainting the food—and sickening guests.
- Prevent product loss—Digital sensors are an effective, affordable way to minimize product loss. The newest technologies continuously monitor freezers, walk-in coolers, cooling drawers, and other equipment—and provide proactive alerts for any breach in the system. Restaurant staff are immediately notified about temperature fluctuations, equipment failures, power losses, human error, etc., which can help eliminate expensive product loss and boost restaurants’ bottom line.
- Elevate operations. No matter how well a restaurant’s staff is trained, human errors happen (often!) in restaurant kitchens. Busy employees may forget to check the temperature of walk-in fridges and reach-in drawers, may take (or record) food temperatures improperly, could skip important safety checks because they’re too busy (or too lazy) to complete the required inspections, or they could accidentally leave the walk-in cooler door open, causing food temps to rise into dangerous territory. Sensors are an effective, accurate and reliable way to elevate operational checks, eliminate labor-intensive tasks, and prevent human errors.
- Alert staff to equipment failure & reduce downtime. If equipment malfunctions, it can negatively impact the guest experience. For instance, a malfunctioning walk-in cooler can slow down service time and limit menu items available during a shift. One out-of-commission walk-in cooler can compromise food (dangerous), result in extensive food waste (expensive), and lead to food shortages for upcoming shifts (inconvenient). Automated temperature sensors can prevent each of these issues, alerting operators to a problem so they can respond rapidly. As a result, the restaurant can avoid lengthy downtime, product loss, food safety risks, staff stress, and other negative repercussions.
The newest sensor models offer huge benefits. They are:
- Affordable. Some of the newest models are up to 80 percent less expensive than previous sensors, making them more realistic for restaurants with limited budgets. And the equipment will help prevent costly issues (like food safety breaches and product loss) so the ROI is high.
- Accessible. Sensors have become more mainstream and accessible across a variety of industries, including healthcare, hospitality and food service. Increasingly, restaurants can subscribe to “Sensors as a Service”—so there’s no expensive upfront costs for purchasing hardware. This allows restaurants to make affordable subscription payments the way they do for laundry, payroll, or other monthly expenses.
- Innovative. New sensors use LoRa (long-range radio) rather than WiFi or Bluetooth. The groundbreaking LoRa technology offers more reliable signals than existing options, and are better able to penetrate to the back-of-the-house (which has been a problem for previous models using older technologies).
- Scalable. Sensors can be used at one restaurant or deployed across an entire chain. It is simple to scale up as an enterprise grows. And the latest systems are easily integrated, providing a seamless, cohesive experience across the multiple units in a restaurant brand.
- Reliable. Today’s sensors provide real-time alerts and data that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. This makes it extremely convenient for GMs, owners and chefs that travel between units (and, sometimes, between cities) and need to access information virtually.
- Configurable. Operators can easily set thresholds for time and temp to get notifications when temps fluctuate within a certain number of degrees. This system can alert them to even the slightest temperature change so they can react before food is at risk.
- Smart. The latest models are exceptionally intuitive, with “Preventative Maintenance” alerts when temp fluctuations suggest an imminent equipment breakdown.
- Easy to install. Modern temp sensors can be easily installed in areas where equipment monitoring is necessary, such as freezers, walk-ins, and low boy coolers. The latest sensors come with “DIY kits” that make it simple to self-install the equipment.
The most profitable, fast-growing food service businesses are deploying new technologies—including digital sensors—to streamline and elevate their operations, reduce human error, improve operational efficiencies, eliminate food waste and minimize food safety breaches. Also valuable: tech tools make it possible to see a big-picture view across an enterprise, allowing restaurants to make data-driven, well-informed operational decisions.
Innovative tech tools—such as continuous monitoring sensors—offer a variety of benefits to help keep your food, guests and business healthier and safer. There’s no better time to invest and install—and gain a competitive advantage by doing so.
Manik Suri is founder and CEO of CoInspect, a company that builds innovative tech solutions to help restaurants better manage food safety and quality. CoInspect’s technology tools are used by thousands of restaurants, retailers, food manufacturers, and government health departments. The company's mission: To ensure exceptional food safety and quality from farm to fork.