The pressure upon university catering teams to deliver high quality services while reducing operating costs and limiting their environmental impact creates significant challenges. For kitchens in higher education establishments around the UK, the appetite for increasing sustainability and productivity without compromising on the quality of food and drink is driving a quest for new ways of working.
Managers are compelled to assess all aspects of their day-to-day operations to identify areas of work that can be streamlined to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Among the activities that fall into this category are the daily food safety and hygiene tasks that, while essential for regulatory compliance and maintenance of quality standards, are costly in terms of how they occupy valuable staff time. At regular intervals during the day, staff conduct and record numerous checks to ensure the kitchen and storage environments meet the standards required by food hygiene regulations. The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) Safer Food Better Business guidelines set out the HACCP tasks that are necessary to uphold best practice consistently. Failure to do so not only puts organisations at risk of fines and other legal actions but can potentially endanger the health of staff, students and visitors, which in turn damages reputation, repeat business levels and profitability.
These essential safety and hygiene tasks have traditionally managed using paper-based systems that provide no effective control or visibility that tasks are being done. Certain checks like fridge and freezer checks are often done manually, taking several minutes each time, which, by the end of the day, can quickly clock up to significant periods during which staff are unproductive in terms of their core catering and service skills.
As in so many other commercial sectors, technology is emerging to transform the way things are done
As in so many other commercial sectors, technology is emerging to transform the way things are done. Cloud-based food safety management systems such as Checkit remove the pen-and-paper burden of daily checks by moving them into the digital realm. Under the Checkit solution, a mobile handset, the Memo, is pre-programmed with a menu of the tasks required by the FSA and can additionally be tailored with specific tasks that the particular premises wishes to add. The handset alerts team members when a check is required and enables them to log this on the intuitive touchscreen, reducing time and complication. The data is then automatically time stamped and transferred securely to a Cloud-based server, from which selected senior members of staff can remotely view daily, weekly and monthly reports in real time. This creates a digital audit trail that dramatically reduces the workload and worry associated with inspections by Environmental Health Officers. It also dramatically reduces reliance on the creation and storage of historic paper records, thereby improving overall sustainability.
There is also the option to incorporate automated monitoring into this package, enabling the temperature of fridges and freezers to be continuously monitored. Again, the data is continuously and securely uploaded to a Cloud-based dashboard so that any issues can be quickly identified and rectified.
Users of the system have noted the improved consistency of safety and hygiene tasks, greater accuracy of results and an increased sense of control over compliance and quality practices. By freeing staff from the burden of paperwork and time-consuming manual temperature checks, they can be deployed on more productive tasks in kitchen and service areas, which can improve overall performance and efficiency.
In a whitepaper commissioned by Checkit, Food Safety Issues & Trends 2020, Nina Purcell, the Food Standards Agency’s director of regulatory delivery in Wales, acknowledged the value of such technology.
“At the Food Standards Agency we are committed to ensuring every food business meets the highest standards when it comes to food safety. Digital food safety systems are becoming increasingly important as they allow them to save time, money and meet the hygiene standards that customers rightly demand,” she commented.
In the same whitepaper, Dr Martin Nash, product line manager at Checkit, predicted an increase in the use of such tools. “We’ll see increasing usage of cloud-based technology and smart, simple to use handheld devices. Technology that allows more rigour in terms of how food safety is carried out and how records are captured and stored will provide brand protection against food incidents or claims that might damage the business.”