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Hospital Automates HACCP

Hospitals Automate HACCP Documentation

No paper, no guesswork, no problems. Today, Baptist does most of its HACCP documentation with the push of a button.

Baptist Health Systems of Birmingham, AL, used to do HACCP documentation the old fashioned way.

When a vendor’s truck pulled up to the loading dock, employees manually took temperatures in the truck refrigerator and freezer. Frozen and chilled boxes were randomly tested as they were received. If there was a problem, a supervisor generally had to be called, and he then had to recheck the measurement and decide whether product would be accepted or not.

All temperature readings were collected by a secretary who manually entered the data into a spreadsheet for later review by inspectors. Although foodservice had developed an application that let data–still manually gathered–to be entered directly into a pair a laptops, that still was cumbersome and errors were common.

Today, Baptist does all its documentation with the push of a button. Refrigerator and food temperatures are automatically recorded, more incoming product is randomly checked and there’s no scramble up the chain of command if something isn’t right. Best of all, there’s no paperwork.

"By eliminating steps and getting faster readings, we probably saved eight minutes per task," says Corporate Director of Food Services Tim Sofferin.

For the past four months, Baptist has used a product called HACCPPro, from Miami-based VSAT, Inc. It utilizes digital temperature probes, automatically records temperatures and compares them to HACCP guidelines for each type of food.

If a temperature is out of spec, it not only issues an alert but lists the recommended corrective actions. It also automatically uploads data to the spreadsheet program overnight, so it’s ready for inspection the next morning.

"Once we take a temperature it’s automatically logged and we never have to go back again," says Sofferin. "The process has eliminated at least five hours of paperwork each week."

The cost–about $3,800, including programming, for each of the six units purchased–has been more than justified by the accuracy and time savings, he adds.

Sofferin says the system has adapted well to the complex food environment he oversees. "We have a complicated process involving receiving, checklists, food preparation, storage and service that includes cafeterias as well as patient service," he explains.

"As the supervisor goes through her checklist, she is probably checking off and recording 15-20 items. Before, that took us close to 45 minutes to accomplish. She now does that in less than eight minutes."

Using an ergonomic elastic wrist strap that leaves both hands free, the supervisor rapidly moves from one food to another, pausing to wipe the probe clean between measurements. The system logs the temperatures and maintains an audit trail by identifying each sampled item and date- and time-stamping each measurement. It also compares each measurement against stored HACCP safety and quality ranges and issues an alert if there's a discrepency.

The cycle menus of the different hospitals are preloaded into the system, so individual units at each location incorporate the specific menu for that facility for each day of the year. Then, specific menu components for each facility on each day show up in turn on the reader for measurement.

"In less time than it took to check the workstations three times a day, we are now able to do hourly checks on every item," Sofferin says. "For patient service, we are now able to follow our patient food from cook-chill through reheat and tray service."

Other applications include automatic checks of dishwasher, refrigerator and freezer temperatures. "Before, we had to have someone from engineering come in and look at every single temperature and record it," Sofferin says.

Routine preventive maintenance is also easier. The warranty’s preventive maintenance requirements, along with troubleshooting information from the manual, are keyed in. The results: less food contamination risk, better maintenance records for the board of health, more efficient energy usage, longer equipment life and better warranty compliance documentation.

Standard HACCP operational checks–whether the staff are wearing hair restraints, whether sinks and tables are clean and sanitized and so forth–are also streamlined.

Perhaps the ultimate payoff–and compliment–came during the recent visit of the health department inspector.

"We showed how we are now automatically documenting sanitation checks as well as food temperatures," Sofferin recalls.

"In fact, we gave the inspector the PDA and he pretty much operated it himself. He went through every station that we have, clicking through the entire automated methodology.

"He was totally, totally amazed and gave us five extra points because we were the only facility that had complied with the HACCP guidelines this well."

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