Sponsored by DayMark
Labeling is an essential element of any noncommercial foodservice operation, from the back-of-the-house to the grab-and-go prepared foods merchandised at checkout.
It has taken on increasing importance amid evolving regulatory requirements and consumer interest in ingredient transparency. Labeling foods in kitchen and storage areas is required for compliance with food safety laws, and posting calorie counts and other nutritional information is mandatory for prepared foods merchandised for consumption, including grab-and-go items. In addition, consumers increasingly expect foods to be labeled with ingredient information which helps them to conform to specific dietary regimens, such as vegan or gluten-free.
Having the right labeling technology can help operators manage these aspects of their operations, especially if the technology is connected with menu management systems and other tools.
“Staying current with ever-changing technology has become essential for today's foodservice operations,” says Kevin Jackson with DayMark Safety Systems, a provider of automated labeling solutions for foodservice. “Menu management, nutritional analysis, HACCP compliance and temperature monitoring have all been streamlined by technological advances that are giving operators more comprehensive overviews — and better control — of their establishments, saving time and money in the process.
“Operators need to stay on the cutting edge of labeling technologies as they continue to evolve with the most current, comprehensive systems on the market. Since launching our first line of dissolving labels in 1997, we continue to work hard to provide our customers with efficient and economical labeling solutions that keep their foodservice staff in compliance with the most up-to-date food codes.”
Here are some of the ways automated labeling can be deployed in noncommercial foodservice operations to enhance operational efficiencies.
1. Dating and rotation
One of the first things foodservice workers are usually taught when they start their careers is the importance of properly rotating inventory by checking labels to ensure that the ingredients which were prepared first are used first.
“Our kitchen teams are always diligent with the labeling of their prepared items, so everything is as fresh as possible,” says Paul Pettas, communications director for noncommercial foodservice operator Centerplate. “This also cuts down on instances of food waste, which we always aim to avoid.”
Automated labeling provides a consistent, reliable method for dating prepared foods which are stored in the back of the house, such as soups, salads and sauces, as well as meats and vegetables which have been prepped for the line cooks.
In addition to indicating the specific item being stored and when it was prepared, the labels can also include the name of the person who prepared the item, which enhances accountability.
Kelly Tessitore, a partner at Food Label Pro, which provides nutritional analysis for foodservice operations, suggests that labels on prepared foods also list all ingredients and allergens. In addition, she prefers that labels are marked with expiration dates rather than when they were made.
“Regarding shelf life, the ‘use by’ date is more straightforward than the other options, in my opinion,” she says.
Other back-of-the-house uses for labels include marking equipment which has been cleaned, such as storage coolers or ice machines, for example.
2. Allergens and other ingredients
One of the most important labeling considerations for operators is whether or not a dish contains any of the common allergens. Consumers should be able to see right away if an item contains any of the eight common ingredients which have the potential to cause the most severe allergic reactions. Listing these allergens on food labels is also required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
“The main reason for a recall is not disclosing allergens,” says Tessitore of Food Label Pro. “Always check your ingredients for egg, milk, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts.”
She also suggests adding a “contains” statement underneath the ingredient list on all prepared foods.
At Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., the campus foodservice program seeks to incorporate the identification of allergens into the actual names of its dishes.
“Our protocol includes naming foods as clearly as possible to avoid confusion,” the school says in a statement. “For example, walnut brownie versus chocolate brownie, pine nut pesto versus pesto, or shrimp Alfredo versus pasta Alfredo.”
The school says its protocol for labeling allergens is based on the “Food Allergy Training Guide for College and University Food Services” from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE).
Wesleyan also color-codes prepared foods with icons that indicate specific dietary preferences, including vegan, vegetarian and made without gluten-containing ingredients.
3. Grab-and-go labeling efficiency
Labeling grab-and-go foods with nutritional and ingredient information helps streamline the process for customers and makes the whole operation more efficient. Labeling can also be used to protect against tampering.
Jonathan Raduns, founder and retail food merchandising adviser at Cherry Hill, N.J.-based consulting firm Merchandise Food, says having a well-organized labeling process is essential for merchandising grab-and-go foods.
“Managing the labels is important,” he says. “It is very easy to confuse the labels and place the wrong ones on an item.”
He notes that one of the common ways operators streamline labeling operations is by having labels pre-printed with the operator’s brand, then customizing the labels on-site for each item.
“Some [operators] benefit from printing just-in-time labels for each item matched to their daily production to minimize the need to manage overruns or label inventories,” he says.
Another important consideration is ensuring that the label is able to withstand the moisture and temperature conditions where the products will be merchandised, he says.
Including “best if used by” dates on prepared grab-and-go food items is also important, says Tim Powell, vice president and senior analyst at Q1 Consulting, Chicago.
“This is probably one of the most important selection criteria for consumers,” he says.
Labels can also be an effective marketing platform on grab-and-go foods, says Powell, and can be used to promote health benefits such as cardiovascular health, bone mass and increased energy. Leading operators, he says, “regularly use labels not just as information, but another medium to help sell the product.”
Pettas of Centerplate notes that clear and accurate labeling of grab-and-go items ensures transparency.
“In each of our venues, we place great value on clear and consistent labeling for our grab-and-go stations,” he says. “The item must be labeled clearly and appropriately, so that our guests can know what they are holding. This level of transparency is important in each facet of our guests’ time with us.”