Those of us in the food industry have all seen the ill-fated clipboard tracking temperature outside of the walk-in cold food storage unit. Historically, monitoring food temperatures in refrigerators has been conducted manually, adhering to a schedule and tracking the temperature at intervals on a piece of paper. But what happens when the employee tasked with monitoring the hourly temperature gets delayed? What if they just plain forget?
I’ve seen employees who have forgotten to track the temperature throughout the day and fill in the end-of-day temperature for the entire day. They’re running the risk that if there was a spike in temperature outside of safe ranges during the day, the entire contents of the cold storage unit could be ruined, but they wouldn’t know it because they didn’t check the temperature. Not only is it wasting food and money, but it’s also putting consumers, real people, at risk.
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Food handlers have the responsibility to ensure that consumers receive safe food products. That assurance starts with monitoring temperatures during the cold chain. Monitoring food storage can be especially tricky with human error. To adhere to federal regulations, companies must implement a quality management system to measure, control, and document temperatures. The best way to accomplish these three responsibilities is with a data logger. Data loggers report temperature data at set intervals to help monitor safe refrigerator or freezer conditions.
Traditional data loggers offer a step up from the unpredictable, human-based monitoring approach. Loggers ensure accurate data throughout the day and, with a USB connection, data can be downloaded manually to a computer. However, downloading the data manually presents problems. Users either have to remove the logger from the cold environment or take the computer into the cold storage area to download the data. Neither of these are productive. Taking the logger out can disrupt its recording and standing in a freezer downloading data is, well, cold.
The Issues with Data Shuttles
For this situation, data shuttles can be advantageous. Data shuttles are small handheld devices that attach to the logger to collect its data. Shuttles are easy to carry around and collect data from multiple loggers without having to remove the logger from its environment or taking a computer into the walk-in. The issues with data shuttles are physically collecting data at the end of the day and the shuttle’s memory filling up.
If users download the shuttle’s gathered information at day’s end, they will find out after the fact if the temperature went out of the safe range. The only recourse is to discard the storage contents. Users don’t want to find out hours later that everything has thawed and is now ruined. Depending on the size of the cold storage, whether it’s a small walk-in or a warehouse, and the contents of the refrigerator, throwing out tarnished goods can be an expensive mistake.
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Similarly, depending on the necessary interval rate, data can fill up in the shuttle before someone can download the information to a computer. This can cause readings to be lost, so users won’t be able to access the temperature history or be aware if something detrimental occurred. Users won’t be able to prove to regulators the temperature history. An employee would have to routinely check the shuttle. But as with the clipboard, an employee is being relied upon to remember to check the data shuttle.
Automated Data Collection
Automated, network-connected data loggers can solve both problems. They eliminate the human element and data loss with real-time monitoring, internet connections, and alerting. Another plus is the cost-effectiveness. Technology improvements have driven the cost of connected data loggers down to the point where their cost is trivial compared to the complications that could arise by not monitoring in real time.