According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. More than 60 % of these illnesses originate in foodservice establishments.
That was before COVID-19.
Now that the world is living collectively with a global pandemic, the way we eat out has changed. Trends such as takeout, delivery, mobile ordering and touchless payments have accelerated and as foodservice operations reopen amid a patchwork of state regulations, it’s clear the industry must adapt to sweeping changes for the long-term.
Now, more than ever, trust and transparency between businesses and consumers is critical. Foodservice operations must protect customers, employees and their brand by ensuring stringent safety practices throughout the operation.
Technology Elevates Safety Practices
Each time customers walk into your restaurant, c-store or foodservice operation, they entrust you with their health. Improper food handling or poor general cleanliness can lead to contaminated products and foodborne illnesses, and one employee who is asymptomatic, sick or simply made a mistake can endanger an entire community.
Food safety protocols encompass two major pillars: a clean environment in which to prepare and serve food, and proper food handling practices. The first requires that the restaurant be kept clean and sanitized, which is accomplished by proper and robust training of all employees. Staff should be mindful of their personal hygiene, wash their hands often and sanitize both FOH and BOH workstations.
As an added layer of protection, foodservice operations can use digital wellness checks to ensure employees are healthy when they report to work. A safe and secure system records if the employee’s temperature was in or out of range, and responses to a series of yes-or-no questions, greenlighting employees who can work and identifying those who may need to return home—all while ensuring employee privacy.
The second aspect of food safety—proper food handling practices—is where technology can help streamline operations, boost profits and increase employee satisfaction.
Labeling Keeps Food Fresh and Highlights Sanitizing Procedures
One of the most common problems seen in foodservice operations is improper labeling. Many operators still use Sharpies and painter’s tape to label containers—a system that is dangerous, unreliable and rife with errors. Employees may use different techniques or abbreviations to record information such as dates and ingredients or worse, forget to label them at all.
An automated labeling system allows operators to print made-to-order labels with dates, nutritional data and other customizable information. Correct labeling is essential to proper food safety practices, and staff should also be trained on how to properly rotate product using the first in, first out (FIFO) method.
Labels can also showcase a restaurant’s commitment to safety and cleaning. After sanitizing tables, counters, kiosks, restrooms or other surfaces, employees can generate time-stamped labels to be displayed on shared surfaces so customers can clearly see what was cleaned when. In addition, management has an easy-to-access digital logs instead of pencil-whipped paper files.
Temperature Monitoring: A Win for Costs and Food Safety
Spoiled product is not only dangerous if inadvertently served, it affects food costs. For example, a steakhouse that needs its walk-in cooler to remain a constant 36 degrees has a lot to lose if someone accidentally leaves the door open and the temperature rises to unsafe levels.
With automated temperature sensing, IoT devices monitor walk-in coolers, freezers and dry storage areas 24 hours a day and notify managers when temperatures deviate from a specified range. Operators and even corporate offices can see exactly what is happening at each location with a few clicks, from anywhere in the world—and avert a potential food safety crisis.
Timers and Temp-Taking Apps Free Up Time and Space
With an integrated timer and temperature-taking system, kitchen staff is less likely to make errors. For instance, fried chicken typically requires several timers throughout the preparation process: one for thawing, another for cooking, and a third to cool down after cooking. With a timer app, employees can easily set several timers at once, freeing up space and giving staff back valuable time to perform other tasks, while also ensuring food is served at the right temperature every time.
Checklists Help Navigate COVID-related Procedures & More
With checklists, corporate offices can send COVID-related checklists to all locations and management can monitor and verify when and by whom must-do tasks are completed. Employee wellness checks, sanitation procedures and reopening guidelines can be accessed and edited quickly and easily.
Digital Automation is the Future of Foodservice
Operators who implemented automated back-of-house systems not only enjoy the reassurance of having better food safety standards, they also report improved efficiency and employee satisfaction, easier FSMA and HACCP compliance and lower energy costs.
Consumer concern about safety is not going anywhere. The more the foodservice industry can do to address customers’ concerns, as well as make it easier on operators and their employees, the sooner we can get back to the life we love—one where restaurants are the conduit for good times and memorable experiences. Technology is one of the most powerful tools we have to help us get there.
About the Author
Bart C. Shuldman is chairman and chief executive officer of TransAct Technologies Incorporated, a global leader in developing software-driven technology and printing solutions for high-growth markets. The company’s BOHA! product offers a one-stop solution for restaurants and food service companies to address their current back-of-house operating requirements while providing a future-ready platform capable of addressing back-of-house operations. The new BOHA! COVID Readiness and Prevention Program ensures employee safety while reinforcing new and updated standard operating procedures with digital accuracy and accountability so operators can reopen and operate in the safest, cleanest, most compliant way possible for both employees and guests.