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High-tech HACCP

High-tech HACCP

HACCP monitoring is made easier with automatic sensing technology such as a hand-held sensor that instantly judges the freshness of a protein by gauging the bacteria level. Also, labels that can be applied to the exterior of packaging can signal when a product is spoiled with a simple color code.

In the realm of food safety, the movement is well along to automate the HACCP process with electronic sensors at each critical control point to track and warn about out-of-temperature conditions. Other kinds of sensors will be available to track the temperature integrity of food shipments almost from farm to field. There are even technologies that can sense bacteria growth, literally signalling when food is spoiling.

Temperature monitoring along the supply channel is an especially critical subject. For example, Smart Labels, made by the firm PakSense, are sugar packet sized devices that are stuck on crates and boxes and monitor the ambient temperature for weeks at a time if needed. Three lights on the label, for over-, under-and at proper-temp indicate immediately if the product was handled under the proper ambient temps over the period of its transport and handling.

A similar device, from Food Quality Sensor International, Inc., monitors bacteria levels rather than temperature. The FreshQ label can be applied to the exterior of sealed packaging and uses a color code to indicate contamination levels. FQSI also makes a sensor unit that can be used to determine product freshness instantly. Both products are especially valuable for proteins.

Inside a facility, technology exists to completely automate temperature monitoring. Sensors located at the control points wirelessly upload a continuous stream of temperature readings to a central collection point and signal alerts whenever any point goes out of temperature. The rate of monitoring is set by the operator, and the system provides an automatic record of the temperatures for reporting and validation purposes.

A more "high-tech" version of this system is under development by a company called ETA3, which uses interactive RFID tags that constantly monitor product to ensure that they remain in temp. The tags can also be embedded right into utensils to sense whether they have indeed been properly sanitized (i.e., reached the right temperature during the warewash process to kill pathogens).

These tags can wirelessly signal all the data they collect and provide an ongoing record of temperatures as well as issue alerts if anything goes wrong. Another application of these tags: they could be programmed to signal the stove to shut off the heat if the pot or pan in which they are embedded reaches a certain temperature, helping mitigate what is one of the primary causes of kitchen fires.

Automatic monitoring can extend beyond temperatures to equipment performance. A recently concluded strategic alliance between cooking oils management services provider Restaurant Technologies, Inc., and information utility and technology development specialist Global Tier promises to develop a software-based monitoring system for professional kitchen equipment.

So, rather than manually monitoring gauges on various pieces of equipment, operators using the system will get data automatically on their computers on things like refrigerator and oven temperatures, cooking temperatures and coffee pots. As with the HACCP systems, the equipment monitor issues alerts whenever a reading veers out of the accepted, preprogrammed range.

Abandon Germs All Ye Who Enter Here. This unit from Hyso automatically sprays hospital-grade disinfectant on door handles every 15 minutes. Just the thing for the entrance to the central production room.

The Tracks of my Temps. PakSense SmartLabels stick to cartons and bins and track the temperature of the product for up to four weeks. An LED indicator shows at a glance is a product is out of temperature.

Leave the Chlorine in the Laundry Room. Instead, the ElectroCide system from Electrolyzer Corp generate non-toxic "electrolyzed water" to disinfect and sanitize cook-and servingware.

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