The adoption of new technology in restaurants used to be all about maximizing efficiency. But in the midst of a pandemic, much restaurant technology turns out to be just as beneficial in protecting the safety of employees and customers. Whether you're considering adopting a cloud-based, decentralized POS system, a new kitchen display system, or simply an ordering app, these resources minimize the number of shared surfaces people must touch. Further, by digitizing communication throughout your business, they eliminate the need for face-to-face interactions with customers and employees alike. No more greasy smudges on order slips passed among team members, drawn-out conversations with guests looking to customize a dish, or extra interactions with kitchen staff about a customer's food allergy. Where are your food safety pain points? Chances are technology can help ease them -- and boost your efficiency in the process.
This year has provided a stark wake-up call about the importance of protecting the safety of our food. Up-and-coming technology called hyperspectral imaging, which can detect pathogens in food, optimize the uniformity of a product’s quality and even help with precision agriculture, has been gaining ground rapidly in the food safety industry this year. In the coming months, it’s an additional feature to watch for and discuss with food suppliers and distributors, particularly as more foodservice operations adopt speed-scratch food products to help boost efficiency. Learn more about the technology here (https://bit.ly/2JcwyHC).
We’re all getting used to doing more tasks remotely lately – and your food safety audits may be heading in that direction if you aren’t already conducting them remotely. These audits tend to be conducted either via cameras installed onsite or via a handheld camera that employee uses to do a walk-through of your facility. Food Quality & Safety advises that you conduct employee training on how to present your facility professionally via video, and also manage the related risks carefully – particularly when it comes to data security and keeping sensitive business information safe.
Even after we have a vaccine for COVID-19, the virus will still be with us and there will be a portion of the population especially vulnerable to it. Much like we have adapted our kitchens and food preparation practices for those with gluten allergies, we will likely have to make long-term changes to how we operate to protect against the coronavirus. Think about the ventilation in your facility, the level of interaction among your staff, technology that enables fast and contactless payment, and seamless pick-ups. Are there changes you have made in recent months that feel temporary but could be made permanent – and might help customers feel safer with you in the long term?
Safety is the new hospitality – but will the enhanced, labor-intensive cleaning practices brought on by the pandemic persist indefinitely? Chris Boyles, vice president of food safety for Steritech, told Modern Restaurant Management recently that he sees potential for growth in food safety technologies ranging from far UVC light to kitchen sensors – tools that both happen to lighten the cleaning load for staff. Far UVC light, with its ability to destroy germs without harming people, may be tested this winter as operators battle through both flu season and COVID-19. Meanwhile, Boyles predicts that the use of sensors to ensure food safety may expand as operators automate more of their food preparation processes going forward.
The coronavirus has brought new importance to the cleanliness of restaurant facilities – and you may well be cleaning surfaces more regularly now. Your POS equipment needs special care, since improper cleaning and disinfecting can cloud screens or damage other components. The National Restaurant Association advises following the manufacturer’s guidelines for all cleaning and disinfecting, but some general rules apply overall: Before cleaning equipment, make sure your hands are clean and dry. Use a clean microfiber cloth or soft towel – not soap – to clean visible marks on equipment. Don’t pour disinfecting liquids directly onto a POS surface; rather, use a solution that’s at least 60 percent alcohol on a soft towel or microfiber cloth, or use premoistened alcohol wipes.
Like just about everything in a restaurant right now, technology is taking on employee health. New tools are helping restaurant operators test, record and even respond to employee health risks that may result in the spreading of a virus. Restaurant Business reports that DayMark’s Task Management app and Receiving Module record employee health details, including temperatures taken with an infrared thermometer. If the system identifies the person as “sick”, they cannot be assigned tasks. The same goes for a delivery driver, whose shipment can be refused if he doesn’t pass the health assessment. #foodsafety
Consumers are monitoring your adherence to new safety precautions. Increasingly, so are cameras. Last year, Domino’s launched a back-of-house camera system called Dragontail to help assess basic quality control measures, like whether pizzas were the proper shape. But as Spoon reports, Dragontail is now launching an AI-powered camera that can also help monitor kitchen safety – detecting whether gloves and masks are being worn and how often a workspace is sanitized, for example. Expect more of this to come as restaurants embrace technology and face increased scrutiny of their health and safety practices. #foodsafety
COVID-19 has not only demonstrated how important it is to wash hands and monitor personal wellness to limit the spread of the illness; it has also shown the vulnerability of the supply chain, both in terms of its likelihood of being interrupted and its possibility of contamination. In the coming weeks, the FDA will be releasing its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint. It will outline the agency’s strategy to create “a more digital, traceable, and safer food system” in the next decade. It is expected to provide information on enhanced traceability of the supply chain, tools to help protect and prevent contamination caused by food ordered online, and guidance on further developing food safety cultures on farms, in food facilities and in homes.
If you’re open for business right now, you can take some extra steps to keep your workplace and team safe. First, at a time when bad news is rampant and often unreliable, take your cues from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization or local authorities on the state of COVID-19 containment in your area. Direct your staff based on those reports to ensure you make decisions using accurate, up-to-date information. Then trace the path of your team each day and identify actions you can take to protect people: Does your team use public transport to reach you? How can you help them protect their safety en route? Can you update your cleaning protocol to ensure your team has clean hands when they enter your facility? How can you ensure physical distancing in your kitchen? What technology tools at your disposal could enable some people to complete tasks from home? If a team member becomes ill, what is your back-up plan? Down the line, it is likely that we’ll have to manage either new mutations of the coronavirus or new virus outbreaks. Preparing now may help sustain your business.