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Food for thought: Using technology in food hygiene

23 August 2021

The public health crisis may be coming to a gradual end, but the importance of hygiene to our overall safety as a society has never been more important. The pandemic has exposed previously careless attitudes towards the basics – handwashing, sanitisation, and general consideration for other people’s health. Now, warns Jason Webb, hygiene in all its forms is top of the agenda.

FOOD SAFETY will continue to be at the front of customers’ minds. A recent survey from the Food Standards Agency revealed that more than one in five people in the UK still have concerns about the food they eat despite restrictions easing. Therefore, safety must always be taken seriously by producers, processors, retailers, and the enormous supply chain in between. 

It seems consumers are now completely tuned in to the risks and will not accept compromises. A staggering 75% of diners would never visit a food outlet again if it breached safety procedures or experienced a lack in hygiene regulations. So, for restaurants and other food providers the choice is clear: maintain the highest food hygiene standards in the kitchen and public spaces or risk closure. 

Tech support
Technology has helped many businesses survive the pandemic, from the widespread adoption of video communications tools and online ordering apps to digital occupancy and space management tools that allow cleaning teams to keep spaces sanitised. It’s no different for food hygiene. 

Although investing in new technology can be daunting from both a cost and quality perspective, it’s possible to keep food hygiene high while keeping costs low. This is not better exemplified than in the food industry’s switch to wireless technology. Wireless data loggers are electronic devices that record temperature over a period of time, producing instant and accurate readings without the need for human input. These devices provide peace of mind by making the process of temperature monitoring more accurate and efficient. 

Wireless data loggers work by transmitting data via the cloud which is stored locally on PCs and other devices. The data is then passed through a Wi-Fi router or Bluetooth to a computer regardless of where the user is based at that specific time. The data then stays locally on a hard drive so employees can quickly access real, live temperature readings. This ensures staff can complete checks correctly, identify issues and take corrective actions to reduce spoilage.

Restaurants and supermarkets need up to date information to prevent costly errors. Fortunately, most cloud servers support email and SMS alerts, a very important capability for swift delivery of accurate information, which means data loggers can immediately pick up any abnormalities or readings that warrant further investigation, giving staff the power to act quickly. 

This capability is also extremely useful if a restaurant suddenly becomes overwhelmed with high demand. Storing more of any produce can affect the temperature and humidity in a restaurant environment, allowing bacteria to flourish even if you think you have the right temperature set on the dial. By checking wireless data loggers every few hours, you can monitor both the air and core temperature to ensure that critical limits are never breached. Additionally, for fresh food, wireless data loggers provide an accurate record of temperature during the life-cycle of a product, ensuring the very best in quality. 

These new data loggers have been specifically designed to eliminate the need for wires and connectors, enabling better flexibility and fewer potential hazards. They are also proving extremely useful in the face of unique pandemic challenges. The new track and trace phenomenon, or the ‘pingdemic’ as it’s been described, has thrown the hospitality sector into crisis. With thousands of employees forced to self-isolate every week, employers have been left short-staffed. In July, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality said business revenue in the sector had been hit by 15-20%. The situation has got so bad that many businesses have told workers to uninstall the app to avoid the inevitable disruption to rotas and, subsequently, operational efficiency. Wireless data loggers reduce the need to employees with issue mundane and time intensive tasks because readings can be taken remotely. During this period, that network capability allows the short-staffed organisations to stay on top of food safety and quality.  

Keeping people safe
Wireless data loggers are an excellent way to make sure the food produced and served, remains fresh and is of the highest quality. However, food hygiene is reliant on the people working with the food to practice good hygiene too. Even with the technology installed, food businesses need to be doing more to protect people’s safety by ensuring high standards of general hygiene are met.

Firstly, it’s crucial that catering teams ensure no cross-contact or contamination takes place. Cross-contamination can endanger customers, and it occurs when bacteria or harmful micro-organisms such as E-coli are unintentionally transferred from one food item to another. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 600 million people - almost 10% of the global population - fall ill after eating contaminated food. The health and financial risks are extensive. Earlier this year, a restaurant in Slough was fined £4,000 after one customer fell ill. Food inspectors found multiple hygiene breaches, including the storage of food at unsafe temperatures and evidence of cross-contamination between raw and cooked produce. 

The ability to measure temperatures over various ranges throughout the food production process is essential to people’s safety, and simple measures can be put in place to prevent such catastrophes.

Offering hand sanitiser for customers and employees remains a simple yet indispensable safety precaution. There are hotspots within restaurants such as door handles, toilets, and even chairs. Surfaces throughout the building also contain bacteria, so it’s important these are cleaned regularly with anti-bacterial wipes.

With the threat of COVID-19 remaining, the ventilation of clean air is fundamental for indoors and enclosed outdoor areas. To reduce the concentration of respiratory aerosol particles in the air, simply opening doors, windows, and checking ventilation systems are operating efficiently is good practice. Yet, sometimes this isn’t always sufficient and it’s extremely difficult to measure if the air is toxic and food can be contaminated. 

Here, technology can help again. Hygrometers can be used to measure the quantity of water vapour present in the air, on which bacteria and viruses so often thrive. In fact, many foods can be sensitive to variations in humidity, with fresh produce in particular needing to be measured and controlled to be consistent in quality. For immediate results, this can be linked to the wireless data logger, providing regular data to ensure the air is safe when cooking.

You can still save
All this equipment sounds expensive, but the short-term investment can save a business money in the long term. One of the most expensive business overheads is employee salaries, with employers spending between 40% and in some case 80% of their revenue on wages. With wireless data loggers transmitting live data via the cloud, businesses can save significant amounts of time and money by redirecting employee attention to other areas of the operation. 

To put it all into perspective, let’s say it takes one person to perform five different temperature checks three times a day. That could reach upwards of 73 hours of labour annually, which based on minimum wage estimates to £636. Wireless data loggers provide a more accurate and regularly updated analysis for less than £30. Applying this technology can therefore save around £600 a year by freeing up more employee time. The 73 hours spared can be weeks’ worth of time dedicated to more fundamental work that can help improve the flow of an operation or used to assign employees to tasks that are more likely to generate profits. In many ways, it’s like adding an extra few working days to the year.

Sanitary and safety precautions across catering within the food industry will stand the test of time Customs to keeping the building, the food, and the people safe will endure as a priority for businesses. However, technology has evolved, and businesses can bear fruit from its rewards. Companies can use wireless temperature monitoring technology to achieve the very best in food hygiene, keep people safe, and cut costs along the way.

Jason Webb is director at Electronic Temperature Instruments.

For more information visit https://thermometer.co.uk​