If you’re like many operators managing a high degree of employee turnover right now, you’re having to prioritize both constant onboarding of new and/or temporary staff, as well as enhanced cleaning procedures. If you’re continuing to use any manual processes to conduct and track safety checks, this can enable staff to tick boxes on checklists without actually completing necessary tasks, exposing your operation to food safety problems. Using a digital system to ensure safety protocols are followed can also make it easier to conduct self-audits between third-party audits, so you can ensure your business stays on track between inspections.
Delivering food safety training and staying on top of hazards was challenging enough for foodservice businesses before the pandemic. Now that these businesses are short-staffed and trying to stay ahead of worker turnover, it’s even more difficult – and has accelerated efforts to use technology to ensure food safety. That has been the case for Wendy’s, which has been working with NSF International to use their EyeSucceed smart glasses to protect food safety. Nation’s Restaurant News says the augmented reality glasses allow real-time, two-way, hands-free communication used for inspections, approvals, trainings and demonstrations for one person or many at once. Could you outsource any of your food safety training to tech?
As you continue to build business back up after the constraints of the pandemic, you may be feeling the need to cut corners and revert to manual processes that you had been delegating to technology. Food Safety Tech reports that restaurants that had been using operational software to monitor food safety processes may be slipping back to the pen-and-clipboard method in an effort to contain costs on tech. Or, those that had been integrating more smart devices into their operation – remote temperature sensors or Bluetooth temperature probes, for example – may be using not-so-smart methods to track food safety practices if and when those devices break or need replacement. While this may be unavoidable in the near term, it just means that some extra precision is required at each stage to ensure your food safety standards aren’t slipping.
Covid-era changes to restaurant dining can make it easy to overlook the many other aspects of food safety that a restaurant team must remember. Can you tap into tech to help your staff avoid information overload? Food Safety News suggests incorporating such measures as electronic checklists to prompt staff about procedures and instructions, automated prompts to help them avoid keeping food sitting out for too long, or alerts about issues that could become problems if not addressed quickly – like rising temperatures in a cooler. Finally, digitize any remaining paper-and-pencil processes in your business, like compliance checklists or records.
One COVID-era precaution that seems to be finding new applications in the post-pandemic world is UV lighting. While UV lights were adopted by some operators last year as a means of keeping food safe by killing bacteria, they are now being integrated into the food storage lockers that are becoming an increasingly common off-premise dining solution. Business Insider reports that brands including Burger King, KFC and Smashburger are testing heated or cooled lockers designed to keep food at the proper temperature until that food is collected, and some of the lockers use UV light to kill bacteria.
While health and safety have been a growing concern for restaurants in the past year, technology is also stepping up to provide better options to protect and track food, ranging from coatings to extend the shelf-life of produce, to blockchain technology that helps chefs pinpoint the best times to use a food product (or quickly track the source of contamination in the case of an outbreak). Now, Food Safety News reports that a new technology is showing the potential to prevent contamination in salad greens. The technology uses streams of water carrying sound and tiny air bubbles to remove microbial contaminants from spinach – a product susceptible to salmonella and other bacteria. The research, a collaboration of Sloan Water Technology, produce supplier Vitacress, the University of Southampton, and the Global Network for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Prevention, was published in the journal Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology.
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?