ComplianceMate Blog

The complete buying guide to food safety systems

Today’s food safety systems must go further than pen-and-paper systems possibly could.

That means incorporating cutting-edge capabilities and technologies into your operations. The foodservice industry has been slower to adopt tech-oriented solutions than other industries; a full 39% of restaurant operators believe their own technology implementations are “lagging,” according to Restaurant Business Online. That’s partially because the expense is a major concern. Margins are so tight at restaurants – and, in the aftermath of COVID-19, tighter than ever – that brands have no choice but to scrutinize every investment they make. So, how exactly can you pinpoint the food safety systems that are worth their salt and will allow operators to recoup their investment?

ComplianceMAte-Vet-Food-Safety-TechIn this buying guide, we’ll evaluate:

  • The features the food safety system must have,
  • The outcomes it must be able to facilitate,
  • The trust factors it must offer, and
  • Its ability to shift your food safety posture from reactive to proactive.

Part 1: Features it must have

When it comes to food safety technology today, some features aren’t just nice-to-have, they’re must-have if you want the system to reliably deliver the best results.

Automated sensors.

As the cornerstone of a good food safety program, temperature sensors ensure that foods are stored at safe temperatures 24/7/365 without requiring a single man-hour to log temps.

Real-time, multi-channel alerts.

If temps every go out of spec, or a checklist item misses pre-set thresholds, good food safety tech can automatically notify whichever stakeholders you choose via whatever means you prefer: text, email, and/or phone call.

Mobile access options.

No more hard-to-find paper logs locked in filing cabinets (or just lost); instead, give every stakeholder role-appropriate access to real-time food safety data from any Web-enabled device.

Customizable reporting.

This feature is key: many solutions provide the previous items, but far fewer give users extensive control over what information they collect, how it is organized, and what is reported to whom.

Above-unit visibility.

Another key feature: most food safety technologies report only aggregated data or store-level data, but not both or anything in-between. The system needs to support regional, district, companywide, and individual store views.

User- and kitchen-friendly design.

Many food safety systems lift technology designed for other industries and shove it into kitchen environments, but it’s not always a perfect fit. For example, the sensors may use communication protocols that can’t penetrate heavily insulated freezers without drilling or using cables. Specifically, look for the LoRa wireless protocol.

Part 2: Outcomes it must facilitate

The right features are only half the battle. Consider that “above-unit visibility” point from above: a solution can gather precise, timely temperature data but unless it parses that information in genuinely useful ways – giving operators the level of view they need to generate good outcomes – the system will always perform below potential. Keep in mind the outcomes that good food safety technologies should catalyze, and make sure the system you’re considering can connect the dots between its features and the benefits it generates.

Reduce fraud and human error.

Not all digital food safety systems can eliminate or reduce “pencil whipping,” where employees enter fraudulent or incorrect entries on checklists and temperature logs. This requires a system that has been designed to defeat attempts by employees to outsmart it.

Reduce labor.

A good food safety technology will reduce labor in several ways. First, it eliminates some human effort, e.g., no more manual temperature checks. Second, it speeds up other tasks, like making finger-friendly checklists that employees can work through faster while still maintaining accuracy. Third, it eliminates paperwork-related time – all that time recording data on paper, organizing it, mailing it, filing it, and retrieving it later.

Maximize consistency across stores.

Multi-location foodservice operations often struggle with consistently enforcing brand, quality, and food safety guidelines reliably and consistently at all locations. A digitized solution that can push out updates in real-time everywhere at once can keep everyone on the same page and prevent idiosyncratic behaviors from taking root.

Reducing food inventory costs.

Food loss due to equipment failure, human error, or simple accidents (like a cold-holding unit’s door accidentally being propped open) is just a fact of life for restaurants. But if the system can alert you to act well before spoilage occurs, you can protect against foodborne illness and food loss simultaneously.

Reduced energy costs.

A smart food safety system is basically a miniature Internet of Things (IoT) that allows restaurants to reap all the rewards of aggregating data about their operations. They can spot equipment temperature fluctuations that indicate maintenance is required, and they can optimize temperature settings to reduce overall energy costs.

Improve profits.

One study from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business found that improving food safety systems at one foodservice organized increased food sales by 2%, likely due to increased consumer confidence.

Promote safer food.

Foundationally, any food safety system has to actually make operations safer and reduce the risk of food safety incidents like foodborne illness outbreaks.

Part 3: Trust factors it must offer

You shouldn’t ever have to take a food safety vendor at their word. Make sure you look for relevant trust factors that credential and support their claims. Such trust factors include:

  • Customer testimonials and references
  • Case studies that showcase what their system has achieved
  • Resources (papers, videos, webinars, presentations) that showcase knowledgeability
  • Awards that their system has won

Part 4: It must shift the approach on its head.

Most organizations, when performing due diligence on a food safety system, will stop after considering the must-have features and outcomes they facilitate. But we’d suggest that any solution be considered from one more angle as well: does it enable the operation to shift its food safety posture from reactive to proactive and from defensive to offensive?

In other words, any company that promotes food safety products will be concerned with reducing safety risks, but do they actually enable their users to (1) get ahead of those risks and (2) extend the benefits into the operational realm? An off-the-shelf food safety product may well help an organization, but is it designed thoughtfully enough to provide for both effectiveness in food safety and enhanced operational efficiencies, to ensure the company can reap a positive ROI within a reasonable timeframe (e.g., a year)? If the answer to this question is no, keep looking.

At the end of the day, a good food safety technology isn’t just going to make you safer, it’s going to make you a better company at the same time.

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