The heat is definitely on for food service operators to reach and maintain tight food safety standards. HACCP programs are all about controlling and eliminating hazards, and food temperatures—when, where and how to take them safely—are at the heart of the program. Fortunately though, hot and cold temperature measurement has gotten easier, faster and safer over the last few years. Infrared technology, as well as more sophisticated infrared temperature measurement techniques, can make a big difference.
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Don Niemeyer is a seasoned quality control consultant to the food industry based in Fayetteville, Pa., who recently evaluated several combination infrared (IR) and probe thermometers for a U.S. Military dining facility contractor, one of his largest clients. After rigorous testing, he highly recommended the technology to the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps for use in their dining facilities. He had a variety of reasons for doing so.
“I was particularly impressed with the accuracy and speed of the IR thermometers I tested,” he says. “They’re so easy to use especially for measuring both hot and cold food temperatures, as well as very hot items such as deep fry oils and grill surfaces.”
As most food service operators know, the FDA has established safe temperature zones for both hot and cold foods. The program requires that cold food be kept at 41 F (5 C) or below, while hot foods must be held at 135 F (57.2 C) or above to be safe. Food service staff also must monitor those food temperatures at regular intervals that range anywhere from one to four hours.
In the wake of recent outbreaks of foodborne illness and product recalls making headlines around the world, everyone in the food service industry is searching for ways to combat potential fallout. Using infrared—which can be 20 times faster than traditional probe measurements—has broadened the ability of food service operators to quickly and safely take temperatures in ways they never knew they could and more often than they ever dreamed possible.
There’s a good reason new temperature measurement tools and techniques are in the forefront of the battle to maintain strict food safety standards.
The CDC has identified inadequate and improper temperature measurement as the major contributing factor in a majority of foodborne illness outbreaks. Here is the list of temperature related functions they say are performed inadequately:
- Cooling and Cold Holding Temperatures
- Hot Holding Temperatures
- Cooking or Heating Processing
They add also that cross-contamination during the temperature measurement process is the culprit about 6 percent of the time.
While the reason food service operations fail to meet HACCP requirements do esvary, and include causes such as poor hygiene among staff, failure to properly take and record food temperature measurement is at the top of the list. Why is something that sounds so simple such a source of failure?
Taking both hot and cold temperatures has traditionally been a time consuming operation because the primary tool being used has been a probe thermometer. Compared to infrared, it’s slow. The user has to wait several minutes at each stop for a traditional probe thermometer to reach the actual temperature of each food item being measured. When there are many different items in a buffet, or a hot or cold serving line, that’s a lot of time.
Likewise, cross contamination is always a concern. As food service staff gets pressed for time, they can forget to clean and sanitize the probe after testing one item and before inserting it into the next food product.
What is Infrared?
Invisible to the human eye, IR radiation is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that includes radio waves, microwaves, visible light, ultraviolet, gamma, and x-rays. All objects emit energy somewhere within that range, and all objects warmer than absolute zero (zero degrees Kelvin); including food, naturally emit infrared energy. When food temperatures are being taken, IR thermometers capture and instantly measure that invisible infrared energy.
Speed and Safety
Noncontact IR thermometers are extremely fast and can produce instant readings. By comparison, traditional probe thermometers can take as long as two or three minutes to get the same readings. As a result, IR thermometers are major time and money-savers.