Two weeks back I wrote about how human error can cause unpredictable challenges for the food safety program in an institutional kitchen or restaurant setting, and also gave some pointers on how the likelihood of those mistakes can be decreased with digitalization. But I also know that the human element is not the only risk factor for food safety and quality in food services – there is a second, and almost as unpredictable, force at work.
It’s technology, of course, and more precisely the equipment in the kitchen that is used to keep food safe, whether it’s cooking, freezing or even cleaning we’re talking about. So, this week let’s look at how we can better manage the kitchen equipment and ensure better food safety and quality.
And if you’re in a hurry, you can also scroll down for the top 3 savings that automating kitchen equipment monitoring will offer your business.
2: My kitchen equipment is so stupid!
In institutional kitchens there are usually a large number of devices, quietly chilling (food) in the corner, cooking meals, washing dishes or performing a hundred other vital functions. But the thing about these devices is that usually they are, not to put too fine a point on this, stupid. The average freezer doesn’t know how to tell you that it’s actually running a bit too warm or cold, or that it is about to stop working in about two weeks’ time.
Of course, HACCP regulation demands some sort of monitoring for most of this equipment. But done manually and often on paper as well, it’s difficult to catch problems in time, or to recognize them in the first place. Not to mention the time it takes to accomplish all the monitoring tasks by hand.
And this creates problems when something goes wrong unpredictably. Of course, there can be some basic guidelines on what to do when this happens in your food safety program. This isn’t certain, though, because typically that only includes the typical risks the process encounters in the everyday operation. And even when there are some instructions available, when something like a freezer breaks down it’s always going to be a firefight situation and usually leads to waste anyway.
For my part, I can say I’ve heard the same story of a freezer breaking down over the weekend many times. And even though often some of the stored food can still be moved to other freezers or fridges, this almost always results in having to puzzle over whether it can actually still be used, and at the same time you need to secure maintenance for the broken equipment. And despite all this trouble you should also be running a working kitchen at the same time, so this is in no way a nonexistent worry.
Separate to this, there is also the question of energy efficiency, which is important in a world where all energy costs seem to keep growing almost by the minute. So, the few degrees below optimum that your freezer is running? That’s going to cost you in the long run, and probably more than you’d think.
Technology to the Rescue
So, if your “stupid” equipment creates all this harm and straight-up costs, what is the solution? Obviously, you could replace all your equipment with newer, more energy-efficient models, but that would cost a nifty sum and still has the possibility of malfunction. But a much better way to prevent running the risk of hazards coming up unannounced would be to make all that stupid equipment smart.
Effectively this would mean setting up automatic monitoring systems. With small, unobtrusive sensors in all relevant kitchen equipment, which will alert on threatening changes, it’s easy to prepare for, and even prevent, malfunctions.
At the same time the sensors can improve food safety in the kitchen. It’s fairly often that a fridge or a freezer may actually be running at a very much different temperature than what is assumed. Depending on the working principle of the equipment in question, the temperature fluctuation can be as much as 7 °C. This means that the food you’re storing may be exposed regularly to temperatures that a manual temperature measuring will not spot. With automatic monitoring, however, this can be taken into consideration in order to ensure that the served food will always be prime quality.
Of course, the data for all this monitoring will also tell you how the equipment is performing in regard to energy efficiency, allowing for better optimization and delivering cost savings. And automating all monitoring also will eliminate the need for many manual measurements, saving considerable time for the kitchen staff.
Top 3 Savings
1. Save on waste costs
It’s naturally impossible to prevent all possibility of equipment malfunction, because sometimes catastrophic failure just happens. However, with a smart and continuously monitoring system it is possible to shorten the minimum response time with immediate alarms. It means you know the second something goes wrong, not only after someone physically goes and measures how well a specific equipment is doing. And this gives your staff the time to act, not just react when it’s already too late.
This way, the next time your freezer shuts down during the night or the weekend, you can alert maintenance at once, and not have to come to work on Monday to be met with a wet floor and a heap of possibly spoiled food. Of course, the sensor data will also tell you straight away if the food has been affected by the temperature changes, so you’ll know if you can still use it or not.
Being able to prevent the trouble and possible waste caused by these kinds of events with your kitchen equipment will easily compensate for the costs of the monitoring system all by itself.
2. Save on work time
The saved work time that the staff can use for actually preparing food, instead of going around measuring that all equipment is functioning as it’s supposed to, is another thing that will easily reimburse the cost of digitalizing the kitchen.
3. Save on Energy Costs
And as mentioned before, suboptimal cooling and heating can create significant energy costs in a large kitchen operation. That’s why being able to get those to function at optimum efficiency is a big bonus for implementing continuous monitoring. It’s easy to do when you have the data that clearly shows you if the equipment needs optimizing, and it will reflect positively to your energy bill
Bonus Benefit: Easier Regulatory Compliance
Of course, all the information you gather from the system is also an easy way to ensure you have the relevant data available to prove regulatory compliance to food safety authorities who are interested in how your HACCP plan is monitored for risks.
Next time I’ll go deeper into the whole HACCP and food safety regulation, and what kind of challenges that can pose for kitchens that are doing things manually. In the meantime, if you’re thinking about automating your kitchen equipment monitoring, do get in touch and we’ll see how we can help you with our digital full-service solution.