Sponsored by DayMark
Each year foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million Americans — approximately 17 percent of the U.S. population — and lead to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to Health.gov.
Increasingly, technologies are emerging that both help pinpoint the source of these outbreaks more quickly, helping to reduce their impact and prevent outbreaks from occurring in the first place.
In a recent presentation to the National Restaurant Association’s Quality Assurance Executive Study Group, Beth Johnson, chief executive of Washington-based consulting firm Food Directions, says new technologies have expanded visibility into the genesis and spread of outbreaks.
“Things are moving quickly,” she says. “The food safety environment is going to be very different. We’re still going to have pathogens, but how we handle them and how they’re managed will change.”
Following are some examples of technologies which hold promise for battling foodborne illness in foodservice.
1. Predictive analytics
Analyzing big data to uncover patterns and indicators is increasingly prevalent in helping stem outbreaks of foodborne illness.
Researchers have collected vast amounts of data from past outbreaks, which are helping authorities more quickly identify sources of pathogens when new reports of illness arise.
In addition, social media may be providing a new vein of data that can be mined to help quickly identify outbreaks, as consumers share stories of illness on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Web mining and social media analysis approaches are being developed to exploit the huge amount of data as an early warning system for identification of potential health and food safety issues that may develop into a crisis,” according to a recent study published in Food Science and Nutrition Magazine.
Several research studies also have found that monitoring Yelp restaurant reviews may help authorities uncover and trace incidents of foodborne illness which might otherwise have gone unreported.
2. Blockchain technology
Some in the food industry have described blockchain technology as the “holy grail” of food safety, as it could introduce more transparency and traceability for all participants in the food distribution system.
Johnson of Food Directions says blockchain technology’s decentralized data systems could help the industry better aggregate and organize data to help trace the sources of foods, which could help inspectors seeking to identify products that may be affected by an outbreak.
“Using blockchain, food companies can much more quickly trace outbreaks back to specific sources,” says research firm CB Insights in a recent report. “This could help increase consumer safety while limiting financial losses, as only the products directly impacted would need to be recalled.”
3. Automated labeling
Proper labeling in the foodservice environment is an important element in the prevention of foodborne illness, and technology is helping to automate this aspect of the operations.
Solutions such as those offered through DayMark Safety Systems’ new cloud-based, kitchen automation system help professionals in the food industry ensure that the food they serve is safe, healthy and in compliance with regulatory requirements.
Brent Courson, executive chef at Main Street Ventures, a network of more than 20 restaurants in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Florida, says the DayMark solution has helped the company in its mission to achieve 100 percent compliance with state standards for labeling food as it moves from inventory through preparation until it is served to customers.
Over the last year, Main Street Ventures conducted tests with three competing food labeling solutions, looking at the ability to manage ingredients and recipes at the corporate level, ease-of-use by staff at diverse locations and overall cost to the business.
“The DayMark solution helped us check all of our boxes: saving us time, ensuring food-labeling compliance and seeing a return on our investment in six to nine months, depending on the volumes of business done at our different locations,” says Courson.
Jill Carte, category manager - kitchen automation at DayMark Safety Systems, says automated food labeling can offer instant compliance through a secure, cloud-based corporate dashboard, coupled with an intuitive, app-driven kitchen interface and wireless hardware.
“When it comes to food safety compliance, it's difficult to ask a prep cook in a fast-paced foodservice environment to consistently recall the correct hold times and shelf life of food items required to create a multitude of changing menu selections,” she says.
She suggests that operators consider a modular food labeling system that can accept other compliance solutions such as recipe management, nutritional labeling, temperature monitoring and line checks, which can facilitate HACCP compliance.
“Our system provides efficiencies and compliance in the kitchen without the need for expensive hardware to print necessary food labels,” says Carte. “Also, even though it is cloud-based, operators can rest assured that the system works independently of the institution’s servers — delivering secure, centralized oversight of a broad range of menu items, recipes and even training items.”
4. Wearable technology
NSF International, the global food safety organization, has been experimenting with Google Glass, the technology giant’s computerized eyewear, to enhance food safety. This involves both remote training and conducting remote food safety and quality audits.
Working with technology provider EyeSucceed, NSF International is allowing partners to view suppliers’ safety procedures remotely and provide real-time assistance.
The technology also is being used in training and education so that restaurant workers can be guided through tasks and notified immediately when proper procedures are not followed.
“The two primary gains of smart training and learning with wearable technology are the ability to train employees directly and unassisted at the workstation,” says Jennifer Tong, formerly of the National Restaurant Association and a co-founder of EyeSucceed.