In January of 2011 the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law with the purpose of improving U.S. food supply safety. This law granted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enhanced authority in the oversight of how food is grown, harvested, processed, and served. Under the FSMA, regulators have shifted their focus from a reactionary policy of containment to a proactive policy of prevention. One consequence of this policy shift is that food service providers now bear a more significant burden of insuring the quality of the food they serve. This increased responsibility translates into increased labor and cost for institutions that are already operating on thin margins. Fortunately, advances in electronic hardware and cloud computing can be applied to the area of food safety, and mitigate cost increases while simultaneously improving food quality.
A central component of FSMA is the requirement for food companies to create and implement a written food safety plan based on Hazard Analysis at Critical Control Points (HACCP). HACCP is based upon the following seven principles:
1. Conduct a hazard analysis
2. Identify critical control points
3. Establish critical limits for each control point
4. Establish critical control point monitoring
5. Establish corrective actions
6. Establish procedures to ensure the HACCP system is working as intended
7. Establish record keeping procedures
FMSA requires that a qualified person design and oversee the execution of the HACCP plan described above. While following this procedure will improve the quality of food served, it also places a significant cost burden on food providers, especially smaller restaurants that lack a sophisticated IT system. The cost for implementing HACCP consists of two components. First, the organization must be trained to have people qualified to develop the HACCP program. Second, there is significant administrative, logistical, and overhead expense with implementing the program and insuring that data is correctly taken and retained.
Many training programs are available train personnel in the basics of developing a HACCP plan. However, conventional methods of executing the HACCP plan are cumbersome, time-consuming, error prone, and unreliable. Since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, poor execution of a HACCP plan often limits the overall improvement in terms of customer safety. Advances in technology dramatically reduce the cost and effort required to realize the full benefits of FSMA.
Of the many recent technology advancements that have been brought to market, the introduction of Bluetooth® Smart by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has had a particularly significant impact. This latest version of Bluetooth is extremely power efficient, enabling portable devices to stay connected longer with smaller batteries. Further, increased intelligence allows devices to work effortlessly, making system set up much easier than with previous versions.
In addition, food safety can reap the benefits created by advances in mobile computing. The proliferation of portable devices such as smartphones and tablet computers has driven down the cost of electric components while simultaneously improving power performance. Also, the increase in mobile devices has enabled cloud-based services in industries from banking to car services, such as Uber. This has made the cloud easier to access and cheaper to operate.
These technological advancements combine to create an environment of easy connectivity, long battery life, and low cost. However, these factors alone don’t solve the typical food operator’s problem. Implementing the last 4 HACCP principles requires more than simple technology, it requires a complete system.
FreshTemp, a Pittsburgh technology company, recognized the challenges that many food operators face when attempting to adopt new technology. FreshTemp developed a comprehensive system, Cloud Fresh™ that includes hardware, software, and management services optimized for the food industry. The end result is a system that is easily configurable to a particular organization’s needs, which is important since different points in the food chain have different requirements and challenges, and can be easily deployed without an extensive in-house IT department.
The FreshTemp portfolio is built upon three pillars – precision hardware, software, and managed services.
FreshTemp has designed distinct hardware optimized for different stages of the food chain. The FreshTemp Data Logger is used to record the temperature history of perishable goods as they are transported between locations. Unlike currently available temperature loggers, which require data to be recovered via an USB stick, the FreshTemp Data Logger transmits temperature data wirelessly to a smart device at the time that goods change hands. The receiver can instantly confirm that the goods maintained proper temperature. Confirmation of acceptance and the temperature profile can also be sent, via Email, to both the shipper and receiver.
Once the goods arrive at their location, Freshsense can be used to monitor the products as they are stored prior to use. Freshsense monitors a facilities temperature 24/7. If temperature passes through a user-defined threshold, an alert is automatically sent (Email, SMS (text), phone call) to the appropriate person. This gives the organization the ability to proactively take action and prevent product loss. Freshsense data can also be used for HACCP purposes.
The Food Probe is used to insure that food being prepared and served meets the required temperature conditions. The Food Probe sends data wirelessly to a handheld device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Temperature data is automatically captured in the smartphone and then uploaded to the cloud. This eliminates pen and paper, prevents data manipulation, and can alert a remote manager is a food item is out of range.
All the hardware is specially designed with standard off the shelf components. The use of standard components keeps cost low, and custom design allows clever device combinations that maximize battery life, and minimize weight. Intelligence is introduced through software that is downloaded into the Microcontroller (MCU) integrated circuits. This software configures the system for optimum performance and includes specialized algorithms that dynamically adjust the system to operate at the minimum required power levels.
Finally, the entire system is controlled by FreshCloudTM, a user-friendly interface that enables a non-expert to remotely access, control, and manage a multitude of devices from the comfort of a tablet or smartphone. Among the features of FreshCloudTM is the ability of a user to manage alarms and notifications based on the specific needs of their product. For example, if a perishable good is being transported that is not allowed to be above 41oF, an alert can be set to notify the transporter if the temperature increases to 40 oF, allowing time for corrective action to be implemented. Likewise, if the temperature of a freezer at a restaurant increases above a critical point anytime during the day, including the middle of the night, a text message or email can be immediately sent to the designated person, allowing them to take necessary action to avoid the loss of valuable inventory.
In addition to temperature, FreshCloudTM can securely capture any text-based data that is required as part of a HACCP plan. This is extremely important, as the number of systems that a food operator needs to maintain must be minimized. Figure 1 shows a sample summary report that includes both temperature data as well as facility specific criteria that is defined in their HACCP plan. The summary reports capture the supervisor responsible for monitoring, and the exact time that the data was recorded. The data is securely stored in a backed up database, and can be retrieved 24/7 from any connected device. Data is stored based on the HACCP plan requirements and can be recalled when needed, for example, in the case of a food inspection.
The FreshCloudTM system in conjunction with FreshTemp hardware creates a highly integrated, yet easy to manage system for HACCP and FSMA compliance monitoring across the entire food chain. The system is easily configurable to the specific requirements of an operation’s HACCP plan, and does not require dedicated IT support. With minimal set-up any food service operation can take control of their food safety and significantly increase the quality of their product without heavy investment in complicated IT infrastructure.
To learn more about how FreshTemp products can help your business, please visit us at: www.freshtemp.com, or call 844 370 1782.
Figure 1: Sample of a FreshCloudTM report summary available for download from the Cloud